Class Size

When states and school districts have reduced Kindergarten through third grade class sizes to under 18, students do better in school.  Students who have been in classes with no more than 18 students in the primary grades are more likely to read at grade level by 3rd grade, more likely to graduate from high school and more likely to go to college.  Small classes can make a big difference and we have the research to prove it.  

Local data from TUSD and national data from class size reduction initiatives in Indiana, Tennessee, Minnesota, Wisconsin and California shows that reducing class size:

  • Improves student achievement
  • Has long-lasting benefits
  • Improves behavior in the classroom
  • Encourages students to stay in school

Download a copy of our class size reduction report Smaller Classes. Brighter Futures. And to learn more about the success of Tucson Unified School District’s Class Size Reduction Initiative download our report “Putting Children First: TUSD’s Class Size Reduction Initiative.”

Having smaller classes is especially important in the early grades of K-3.  This is when children are taught the foundation upon which the rest of their education will be built. And if we can get it right in the early grades, the research shows that the students reap the rewards throughout the rest of their careers in education.  

West-Ed’s Policy brief, co-authored by Jeremy Finn,   found that as class-sizes shrink,  teachers “ spent more time on instruction and less on classroom management. One such study from Australia also suggested that smaller classes allow more – and more protracted – interaction between teachers and individual students.  Observations of 52 of STAR’s 2nd grade classrooms showed that teachers could better monitor student reading progress and were more consistent in managing behavior. In a North Carolina study, researchers looking at  small  and regular classes discovered that in the smaller classes, there was more time spent on teaching and fewer discipline problems.  

Teachers in Marana who taught in smaller classes in Kindergarten and 3rd grades found that they had completed their year-long lesson plans by January. This gave their students the opportunity to receive  four months of more advanced instructional time.   (See our article on Public Education Heroes:  Wade McClean and Andrew Morrill to see how Marana Unified School Distrcit reduced class sizes)

Study after study has shown the benefits of smaller class size.  But national and state policy makers are not paying attention! They are supporting policies that have no research behind them:  expanding the privatization of public schools and increased testing. 

 Since 2000 Voices for Education has been a leader in class size reduction efforts in Arizona, putting research in the hands of parents, policy-makers and community members and working to hold our legislature accountable for failing our students. Voices for Education is working to reduce class size by:

  • Advocating at the state level from smaller classes in K-3.
  • Identifying methods and funding sources in order to sustain TUSD’s Class Size reduction Initiative.
  • Joining with parents, community members and educators to reduce class size in Sunnyside School District.

What’s the ideal class size for the primary grades.? The Tennessee STAR study randomly assigned over 7,000 students to different class sizes:  18 and under, 22-25 and 22-25 with an aide.  The STAR study found that the children in the classes with fewer than 18 students out performed their peers who were in the larger classes.  The STAR study also found that there were “lasting benefits.”  The students who were in the smaller classes continued to outperform their peers even when they returned to the larger classes.  They out-performed them in reading, had less discipline problems and were more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college.  While all students benefit from smaller classes, the greatest gains were made by low-income and minority students.  

While the most research has been done on K-3 class size reduction, in Voices for Education’s youth survey, we found that 78% of 7th graders and a whopping 86% of 11th graders would prefer to be in a class with fewer than 24 students.  Arizona has some of the largest class sizes in the United States.  Only Utah has larger class sizes than Arizona.  In a state, where we underfund education, reducing class size may seem like a luxury, but it we want to compete on a global level and live  in a economically viable state, we must make this investment.

Check out our report on TUSD’s efforts to reduce class sizes in Arizona.  This district reduced class sizes in Kindergarten in their most at-risk schools–they saw improvements in reading in just 4 months.  The improvements were so great, that they expanded the program to small class sizes in all Kindergarten and First grades.  

This program was stopped after four years due to state budget cuts.  It was paid for by 301 money.  Check out our  reports:  Putting Children First:  TUSD’s Class Size Reduction Initiative and Putting Children First:  TUSD’s Smaller Class Size Initiative; Year 2.

What can you do to help  Arizona students receive the benefits of smaller classes?  Work with Voices for Education to develop, support and pass a state-wide initiative to reduce class sizes.   Work with your districts to ensure that when the economy turns around, a portion of 301 money(check out school finance section of our website) will be used to reduce class sizes.  When voters passed Proposition 301, the initiative stated that money collected could be used for class size reduction.  (The ads made it seem as if all of the money was going to class size reduction) Tucson Unified School District was able to reduce class sizes to 18 and under in all Kindergarten and first grades with just 3% of 301 money.   

Join us on facebook (Voices for Education) to keep up with the latest information on efforts to reduce class sizes! 

Why Reducing Class Size Works and Corporate Style Reforms Don’t

Class Size Reduction

Privatization & corporate- style education reforms

Research shows demonstrated achievement gains, higher graduation rates, more engagement and lower disciplinary rates where class sizes are reduced.1

Key elements including high stakes testing and privatization, vouchers, for-profit charter schools and online learning have no backing in research.

Institute of Education Sciences, research arm of the US Dept. of Education, cites class size reduction as one of four reforms proven to work through rigorous evidence.2

National Academy of Sciences issued 2 reports showing no evidence that high stakes testing or merit pay will improve schools and may have damaging effects.6 Numerous studies show teacher merit pay doesn’t work.7 Most authoritative analysis of over 5,000 charter schools (CREDO) shows charters on average have no better results and often underperform neighborhood public school.8 Online K12 learning has no research support whatsoever.

Finland, with greatest gains on international comparisons like the PISA, turned around school system in 1970’s when they reduced class size.3

Finland has no standardized testing until final years of HS (for college entrance decisions); other grades, only use standardized exams on small samples of students.9

Class size reduction supported by public school teachers and parents—stakeholder groups closest to conditions on the ground.

Corporate reforms pushed by Betsy DeVos,Walton family (Walmart), Gates Foundation, Eli Broad and hedge funders, like closing schools rather than improving them and want more high-stakes testing. These promoters often have little to no experience with public schools-but like creating schools for “other people’s children.” The policies have little public support, according to PDK/Gallup poll.10

Smaller classes tend to decrease teacher attrition rates and lead to a more experienced, effective teaching force.4

Teacher evaluations tied to unreliable test scores causes good teachers to become demoralized and/or lose jobs.

Smaller classes foster deeper reflection, creativity and learning through questioning, discussion and debate.

High stakes testing leads to cheating and/or excessive test prep, narrowing of curriculum, rote learning, and weakens creative thinking and inventiveness critical for economic growth.11 Since 1990, for first time, American creativity declining, most seriously among children in K-6th grades.12

Greatest benefits of class size reduction are received by students with the greatest need: low-income, minority students. This reform is one of few proven strategies to significantly narrow the achievement gap.5


Where Can You Find Our Facts?

1. Haimson, Leonie. “The 7 Myths of Class Size Reduction –And the Truth.” Nov. 1, 2010. The Huffington Post.

Accessed from:

Hiller, Robin and Nagel, Ami. Putting Children First TUSD’s Investment in Class Size Reduction Accessed from: 20first.pdf

2. U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences, “Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported by Rigorous Evidence: a User Friendly Guide,” December 2003. rigorousevid/rigorousevid.pdf

For more information on the importance of class size visit our website: as well as access our report, Smaller Classes. Brighter Futures.

The Class Size Matters website:
Finn, Jeremy. Class Size and Students at Risk. What is Known? What is Next?

3. Pasi Sahlberg (2007): Education policies for raising student learning: the Finnish
approach, Journal of Education Policy, 22:2, 147-171. %20for%20raising%20learning%20JEP.pdf

4. Pas, Emily. “The Effect of Class Size Reduction on Teacher Attrition and Recruitment: Evidence from Class Size Reduction Policies in New York State.”

5. Alan B. Krueger and Diane M. Whitmore, January 2001. “Would Smaller Classes Help Close the Black-White Achievement Gap?” in John E. Chubb and Tom Loveless, eds., Bridging the Achievement Gap, Brookings Institution Press 2002; also available at

For more information on studies covering the achievement gap including the STAR project
visit: to access the report summary:
How Smaller Class Size Affects Student Achievement: A Literature Review of the STAR project and other studies

6. The National Academy of Sciences Report: Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education http://

7. Moran, Melanie. “Teacher Performance Pay Alone Does Not Raise Student Test Scores.” September 21, 2010. Vanderbilt News. this was a study done in Nashville, Tennessee by proponents of merit pay from the National Center on Performance Incentives.

Even the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Dept. of Education had qualms with the study which can be accessed from:

9.Pasi Sahlberg (2008): Rethinking accountability in a knowledge society, Journal of Education Change, 20 Nov. 2008.


11. George Madaus and Michael Russell, (2010/2011) Boston College, Paradoxes of High-Stakes Testing Journal of Education,190:1/2, 21-30.

For further reading of cheating due to high-stakes testing: Turner, Dorie. “Atlanta Schools Created Culture of Cheating, Fear, Intimidation.” July 16, 2011. The Huffington Post. Accessed from:

12. For more information regarding creativity and

13. Krueger and Whitmore, 2001.