Schools and Students
Some research suggests that small/intermediate-sized schools and relatively small classes can have advantages, including possibly leading to higher achievement (Klonsky 1995; Raywid 1995; Lee and Smith 1997), although some of the findings are debated.3 This research has found that placing students in small groups tends to foster close working relationships between teachers and students, thus enhancing learning (Lee and Smith 1993) particularly among at-risk students and those in the early grades (Lee and Smith 1995; Krueger and Whitmore 2001). Fairly small schools are also believed to promote teachers’ commitment to collaborative work and to support the development of a "professional community of learners" that Newmann and Wehlage (1995) consider useful for high student achievement. In addition to the possible advantages of small schools, they may have some disadvantages as well, such as providing a narrower set of programs and services. The smallest high schools may not be able to offer advanced courses because they have too few students, a shortage of qualified teachers, or both. The data in indicator 27, which examines the proportions of students who completed advanced science and mathematics courses in high schools of different sizes, shows that moderate-sized high schools may provide advantages.
School size is typically related to the population density of the local area and its age distribution of children; for private schools, local demand for a school’s instructional philosophy also contributes to size of enrollment. The average private school had 193 students in 1999–2000, while the average public school had 535 students (table 3). Among private schools, 80 percent had enrollments of fewer than 300, compared with 29 percent of public schools. Within the private sector, Catholic schools had larger enrollments than other types of schools. About 43 percent of Catholic schools had 150–299 students in 1999–2000 (a higher proportion than in the other two school types), and another 38 percent had 300 or more students. In comparison, 11–12 percent of other religious schools and nonsectarian schools had 300 or more students. About 36–37 percent of other religious and nonsectarian schools had fewer than 50 students. Such small schools were rare, however, among Catholic schools (1 percent) and in the public sector as a whole (4 percent).
The average class size reported by teachers was larger in public schools than in private schools for both self-contained (the norm for elementary grades) and departmentalized classes (typical in middle and upper grades). Teachers in Catholic schools had an average of 23 students in their departmentalized classes, and in public schools the figure was 24 students (table 4). In both Catholic and public schools, however, departmentalized classes were larger than in other religious and nonsectarian schools, where the average class sizes were 17 and 15 students, respectively.
The schoolwide student/teacher ratio tends to be smaller than the average size of self-contained or departmentalized classes (shown in table 4) mainly because the student/teacher ratio includes any pull-out, enrichment, and other special classes. Private schools had an average of 13 students per FTE teacher, compared with an average of 16 students per teacher in public schools. Furthermore, 36 percent of private schools had a student/teacher ratio lower than 10:1, compared with 10 percent of public schools.
3Some other research has questioned the value of decreasing class sizes in raising achievement, particularly in light of the often high costs of implementing such changes. Hanushek (2000) argues that the quality of additional teachers hired to reduce class sizes is the important variable, rather than smaller class sizes per se. O’Connell and Smith (2000) and Finn and Achilles (1999) found that smaller class size does not substantively change how teachers teach, although the evidence on that question is mixed; see Holloway (2002) for a summary of research on the topic. (back to text)
Figures and Tables
Table 3: Average number of students enrolled and percentage distribution of schools according to enrollment size, by sector and private school type: 1999–2000
Table 4: Average class size, student/teacher ratios, and percentage of schools with a student/teacher ratio less than 10:1, by sector and private school type: 1999–2000
Table S3: Standard errors for the average number of students enrolled and percentage distribution of schools according to enrollment size, by sector and private school type: 1999–2000
Table S4: Standard errors for the average class size, student/teacher ratios, and percentage of schools with a student/teacher ratio less than 10:1, by sector and private school type: 1999–2000