What has been the traditional average classroom size?

Teachers and bureaucrats at the government schools are constantly whining that they need more money and teachers to reduce class size. Usually, I hear that they want to reduce class size to around 20 kids per class. This is ostensibly to give more individual attention to the children.

Now, I remember when I attended school, the normal class size averaged between 25 and 35 kids per class. And somehow, we all managed to learn to read and write before we graduated high school.

What was the average class size historically?

I have no good statistics, but, for whatever it may be worth, here are the experiences of me, my wife, and my niece who is spending the night as Casa Mephisto.

I’m in my early thirties and I went to public schools in a city of a couple hundred thousand people in northern Illinois. Average class size for me in elementary school was around thirty. In middle school and high school the class size was slightly bigger. My wife, who attended public schools in northeast Arkansas, said that most of her classes contained around twenty students.

I just asked my ten-year-old niece, who attends school in a small Arkansas school, how many kids are in her class, and she said fourteen, although my wife thinks it’s closer to nineteen.

College classes . . . somewhere between three or four students to a couple hundred students in my experience.

The state usually sets a cap on how many kids can be in a class. The last time I checked, Kentucky’s was 26 for K-3, and 31 for 4-12. The cap varies by era and area, and some schools run closer to the cap than others.

Some schools also habitually gain a lot of kids during the year. If they start the year close to cap in all classes, and get a lot more kids during the year, they face the very real possibility of going over cap and being in violation of the law. Depending on what the cap is in your area, 20 could either be an effort to avoid worrying about being over cap. It could also be a starting point for negotiations, like asking $4000 for that old car in the driveway.

When I was in elementary school, the average class size was around 30-35, according my old school photos. However, this would be large by todays standards for a couple of reasons. Back when I went to school (early 1970’s) , classrooms experienced much less of the daily drama going on today. Kids back then tended to be a bit less disruptive. Teachers, at least in my school , spent more time teaching and less time “parenting” kids who obviously didn’t get any parenting at home. Also, my SO is a teacher- at his school, “special needs” kids tend to be mainstreamed nowadays in many school systems, which requires a bit more attention from the teacher. So I am all in favor of smaller classrooms, for school systems where mainstreaming occurs, and simply because teachers in many instances, tend to be a surrogate parent to kids whose parents don’t want/don’t have the skills to parent.

When I started secondary school in 1980 (ages 11-18) there were 30-32 kids per class.

Problem is these days, that kids have too much power, and the worst thing is, they KNOW they have too much power. Hence it becomes more difficult for teachers to keep control.

When I were a lad, we stood up when the teacher came in the room, called him ‘Sir’, raised a hand to ask to be excused and talked when the teacher was speaking at our peril, lest we get ears bent, arses caned, knuckles rapped with rulers, board rubbers thrown our way etc etc

My wife had to give up teaching recently as it was drivin her to ill-health. I admit, the school she worked in was one of this countries worst, with kids thowing chairs thru windows, setting fire to science labs, fighting in corridors etc etc

A teacher cant lay a finger on a kid these days without being wisked off to court. Kids know this. There’s no respect. Teachers have no power any more.

That’s why they want smaller classes, to make it easier for teachers to manage.

I know Quebec has a cap, but they financially “compensate” teachers if they go over it. I think the cap in grades 1-2 (what my mother teaches) is something like 26, but my mom often finds that she has about 30 kids in her class. And it isnt only a problem about lack of respect/power as ChalkPit says - at that age, kids don’t know what court is. There are just TOO many of them to pay attention to individually enough for them to succeed. You can say that, thirty years ago, in large classrooms “you all learned to read and write”, but the fact is there are probably several of your classmates throughout the years who fell through the cracks, and didn’t. Education is handled a bit differently now (new techniques, etc), and there are a lot of children who learn differently, and who need to be shown how to do something in ways they can understand, rather than just with one method, and they either understand it or not. I’m thinking of the whole-language vs phonics reading techniques, but similar things apply to kids who can see 2+3= and not know what it means, but if they have objects in front of them that they can manipulate and move around into little piles, it all makes sense to them.

Children learn at different levels, and that needs to be paid attention to, or else you will have more students reaching upper levels resenting school and teachers etc, and that can be problematic. A good teacher, IMHO, observes where a child is having difficulty, and takes the time to adapt a learning technique to that child. It just can’t be done if a single teacher is busy policing too many children. I remember one year, my mom had 27 or 28 children in her grade one class, and I think about 8 of them were ADD or ADHD (being medicated), and she had, on her own time, developped ELEVEN Individual education plans for students who were having more trouble learning.

The other thing is that socially, young children don’t really know how to interact with one another, especially not in large groups. My mom tells me constantly about having to teach her children basic manners, and that hitting/insulting other people is wrong, and just generally how to interact. The more children there are, the harder it is to notice if a given child is being given a hard time by his/her peers, and the more time is spent policing the group rather than actually teaching material. so the idea is, keep the class sizes small at a young age, and gradually increase the size as they get older. Young children (even ages 5-8 or more) are still very “Me” oriented, and so sort of need that extra attention inside a classroom environment. They grow, and learn how to be part of a group, so that later on they can deal with being one in 500 in a university class, but there is a learning curve for this, too.

I’m not even a teacher, but I know a lot of what my mother goes through, and I am in total support of her and other teachers’ wishes. Its sad, really, that teachers have become second parents, and so have to teach what parents dont want to/have time to as well as what they are hired to teach. Too many parents view school as a place to dump their kids off at while they go to work (observe parents reactions when a snow day is called - they HATE it, because suddenly having to take care of their kid between 9-4 is a burden on them). Too many parents expect teachers to teach religion and/or other “personal” things because they dont do it themselves. Too many parents wonder why their kids cant read/write/add/whatever when they never sit down with them and help them with their homework, read to them, or pay any attention AT ALL to a childs school life, because all of that is the “teacher’s job”. So teachers have to adapt to that, and ask for more resources, and money, and smaller class sizes, because they now have a much larger role than they ever used to have. As I said, I support this.

Just one thing, before everyone starts in on me about how THEY aren’t like the parents I just described - I know. There are a lot of great parents out there, too. The ones who pay attention, and help educate their children, and the ones who even volunteer in their childs class to get a first-hand understanding of what their daily experience is, and the ones who truly make an effort to help. I think these people outnumber the other ones, at least I hope thats the case, but there are enough parents like the above who just don’t care, and it isnt fair for those children to fall by the wayside because of it. Teachers want to teach ALL of the children in their classes, not just the ones whose parents help out.

Sigh - this has been a lot more than I thought i’d write, considering the fairly simple OP, but I think it all ties into WHY teachers want smaller class sizes, and more resources, etc.