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Problems With Large Class Sizes in Elementary Schools

by Amy Pearson, studioD

As elementary school children begin to build an academic foundation that will support their school careers, large class size presents many obstacles that hinder optimal learning. As the website for Parents Across America reports, younger elementary children in particular (kindergarten through third grade) are especially vulnerable to the problems that come about due to large class sizes, such as poor-quality instruction, disciplinary distractions and lower test scores.

Less Individualized Attention

Students struggling with basic skills may not receive the individualized attention that would help them the most.

When an elementary teacher has too many children in a class, it becomes difficult for the teacher to get to know each student on a personal basis. Learning disabilities or special needs are less likely to be identified because teachers do not have the time to focus on the individual needs of each child. Children who are struggling with reading or learning early math skills are unable to receive the remedial one-on-one help that could help them catch up to their peers. Students who could benefit from additional challenges may also suffer, because teachers with large class sizes are less likely to notice exceptional learning abilities.

Lower-Quality Instruction

New teachers often find initial employment in school districts with large class sizes.

According to research posted on the website for the Class Size Reduction Research Consortium in California, schools with the largest class sizes generally serve low-income and minority students. New or inexperienced elementary teachers who may be less likely to implement high-quality teaching techniques are often employed in low-income districts. Teachers overwhelmed with paperwork, disciplinary problems and daily classroom management may not have time to dedicate to adequate coverage of important elementary school skills, such as phonics instruction or sentence structure. Creative exploratory assignments or interactive student-led activities are much more difficult to plan for in a large classroom where overcrowding prohibits much movement.

Classroom Management

Large class size lends itself to discipline problems because teachers are not able to establish the consistency needed to promote good classroom management. As teachers struggle to handle individual student needs, it becomes very difficult to control a large class. Discipline becomes ineffective, more sporadic and inconsistent. According to an article written by Caralee Adams that was published on the Scholastic website, teachers may suffer from feelings of ineffectiveness in dealing with fights between children or other disciplinary problems. Students can easily become unruly when a teacher is busy dealing with a behavioral problem with another student, leading to a never-ending cycle of behavioral problems in the classroom.

Disadvantaged Students Suffer the Most

Elementary students who come to school with the most obstacles from family issues, lack of income or other personal problems are unfortunately often placed in large classes. According to research conducted and analyzed by Alan Krueger and Diane Whitmore that was published on Princeton University’s website, test scores of low-income African American elementary students improved up to 10 percentage points when the students were in a smaller class. Scores for low-income Caucasian students also improved in smaller classes, with improvements of about four percentage points. While minority and low-income students benefit most from a reduction in class size, many schools are unable to meet the needs of students because of lack of funding and teacher shortages.

About the Author

Amy Pearson earned dual bachelor's degrees in management and horticulture. She is a licensed elementary teacher for kindergarten through sixth grades. Pearson specializes in flower and vegetable gardening, landscape design, education, early childhood and child development.

Photo Credits

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