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Monday, March 22, 2010

The ideal class size isn't 30, or even 15, but more like 5

What is the ideal class size? If you listen to popular rhetoric, we are told that 25 to 35 is really, really bad, and 15 is really, really good.

While I agree that 15 is better, that's kind of like saying driving 95 mph is better than 125. Anyone who has tried to interact with 15 children know the activity is still that of sheep-dogging and projecting content.

Now ask yourself, if you weren't constrained by budget or logistics or even common-sense, what would the ideal class size really be?

Really, class size should be about 5. This allows mini peer-to-peer conversations, while allowing both common presentations and shared one-on-one interacting that is necessary. If you include the coach, it is also an even number. 5 is most often better than either 4 or 6.

(With this ideal class size comes a redefinition of class, from "class being entire community all day" to class being focused learning.)

From the point of view of the education industry, 15 is a reasonable "best" goal - a calculated stretch goal for more funding, without actually meeting the needs of the students. Once you get past their framing, the real number is much different.

Author's note: when I led hiking and canoeing trips in Maine, we did have a ratio of instructor to student of 1:5, with two instructors for ten kids. It is possible, even in a more institutional setting.


  1. I love the idea of a 1:5 adult child ratio especially with younger grades when they really need to read and learn basic math but (and this is a big but) small class sizes can be horrible for developing friendships.

    I've watched this happen twice with really hurtful results for the children involved. If the kids don't have enough classmates to choose from it is really hard to find people to click with to be their special friends. In K and Grade 1 my daughter only had two other little girls in her class. They were very nice little girls but they became best friends and Charlotte was odd man out. A disaster for her.

    In my son's class - very similar - only 10 girls total in the whole grade. Not enough for everyone to have a friend.

    What if class size was a little bit bigger but there was more than one adult in the room? The kids would have more potential friends to chose from and it would double their chances that they would have a teacher who clicked with them too.

  2. Class size and community size should be thought of differently.