Student–teacher ratio is the number of students who attend a school or university divided by the number of teachers in the institution. For example, a student–teacher ratio of 10:1 indicates that there are 10 students for every one teacher. The term can also be reversed to create a teacher–student ratio.
Smaller classes beneﬁt all pupils because of individual attention from teachers, but low-attaining pupils beneﬁt more at the secondary school level. Pupils in large classes drift off task because of too much instruction from the teacher to the whole class instead of individual attention, and low-attaining students are most affected. Students beneﬁt in later grades from being in small classes during early grades. Longer periods in small classes resulted in more increases in achievement in later grades for all students. In reading and science, low achievers beneﬁt more from being in small classes. The beneﬁts of small class sizes reduce the student achievement gap in reading and science in later grades.
A low student–teacher ratio is often used as a selling point to those choosing schools for tertiary education. On the other hand, high student–teacher ratio is often cited for criticizing proportionately underfunded schools or school systems, or as evidence of the need for legislative change or more funding for education.
In the United States, some states have enacted legislation mandating a maximum student–teacher ratio for specific grade levels, particularly kindergarten. When such figures are stated for schools, they often represent averages (means) and thus are vulnerable to skewing. For example, figures may be biased as follows: if one classroom has a 30:1 ratio and another has a 10:1 ratio, the school could thus claim to have a 20:1 ratio overall. In schools, such ratios are indicative of possible staff changes. If the student–teacher ratio is 50:1, the school will probably consider hiring a few teachers. If the ratio is very low, classes could be combined and teachers fired. In extreme cases, the school may close, due to its apparent redundancy.
Classes with too many students are often disrupting to education. Also, too many students in a class results in a diverse field of students, with varying degrees of learning ability. Consequently, the class will spend time for less academic students to assimilate the information, when that time could be better spent progressing through the curriculum. In this way, student–teacher ratios are compelling arguments for advanced or honors classes.
Numerous sources argue that lower student to teacher ratios are better at teaching students complex subjects such as physics, mathematics and chemistry, than those with a higher ratio of students to teachers. Commonly the schools with lower student to teacher ratios are more exclusive, have a higher attendance of whites, are in non-inner urban areas and/or fee-paying (non-government) institutions.
The manifold arguments and controversies of funding and student–teacher ratios have been the basis for a multitude of studies and debates. One view is illustrated below:
Many analysts have found that extra school resources play a negligible role in improving student achievement while children are in school. Yet many economists have gathered data showing that students who attend well-endowed schools grow up to enjoy better job market success than children whose education takes place in schools where resources are limited. For example, children who attend schools with a lower pupil-teacher ratio and a better educated teaching staff appear to earn higher wages as adults than children who attend poorer schools.
Among the more popular studies on student–teacher ratio effects were those done in connection with Tennessee's Project Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) and Wisconsin's Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) Program. The researchers associated with both of these programs found significant cumulative benefits associated with smaller class size, with benefits being more impressive for African American students. However, others dispute these findings, most notably the Heritage Foundation. The broader research literature also raises questions about the generalizability of these studies. This conflicting research has led to a number of attempts to assess and reconcile the existing evidence.
Subsequent research reviews have found that smaller classes beneﬁt all pupils because of individual attention from teachers, but low-attaining pupils beneﬁt more at the secondary school level. Pupils in large classes drift off task because of too much instruction from the teacher to the whole class instead of individual attention, and low-attaining students are most affected. Students beneﬁt in later grades from being in small classes during early grades. Longer periods in small classes resulted in more increases in achievement in later grades for all students. In reading and science, low achievers beneﬁt more from being in small classes. The beneﬁts of small class sizes reduce the student achievement gap in reading and science in later grades.
- Blatchford, Peter; Bassett, Paul; Brown, Penelope (2011). "Examining the effect of class size on classroom engagement and teacher—pupil interaction: Differences in relation to pupil prior attainment and primary vs. secondary schools". Learning and Instruction 21: 715–30. doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2011.04.001.
- Konstantopoulos, Spyros; Chung, Vicki (2009). "What Are the Long-Term Effects of Small Classes on the Achievement Gap? Evidence from the Lasting Beneﬁts Study". American Journal of Education 116 (1): 125–54. doi:10.1086/605103.
- Card, David; Alan B. Krueger (1996). "School Quality and the Return to Education". In Gary Burtless. Does money matter?: the effect of school resources on student achievement and adult success. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution. pp. 118–119. ISBN 0-8157-1274-X.
- Finn, J.D., & Achilles, C.M. (1990). Answers and questions about class size: a statewide experiment. American Educational Research Journal, 27(3),557-577.
- Molnar, A., Smith, P., Zahorik, J., Palmer, A., Halbach, A., & Ehrle, K. (1999). Evaluating the SAGE Program: a pilot program in targeted pupil-teacher reduction in Wisconsin. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 21, 165-177.
- Rees, N. S., & Johnson, K. (2000, May 30). A lesson in smaller class sizes. Heritage Views 2000 [Online]. Available: http://heritage.org/Research/Commentary/2000/05/A-Lesson-in-Smaller-Class-Sizes
- Hanushek, Eric A. 1999. "Some findings from an independent investigation of the Tennessee STAR experiment and from other investigations of class size effects." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 21, no. 2 (Summer): 143-163; Hanushek, Eric A. 1999. "The evidence on class size." In Earning and learning: How schools matter, edited by Susan E. Mayer and Paul E. Peterson. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution: 131-168.
- Ehrenberg, Ronald G., Dominic J. Brewer, Adam Gamoran, and J. Douglas Willms. 2001. "Class size and student achievement." Psychological Science in the Public Interest 2, no. 1 (May): 1-30; Mishel, Lawrence, and Richard Rothstein, eds. 2002. The class size debate. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute.
- Teachers: Supply and demand: United States.Erling E. Boe Dorothy M. Gilford. National Academies Press, 1992. ISBN 0-309-04792-7. (Examines policy issues, projection models, and data bases pertaining to the supply of, demand for, and quality of teachers in the United States from kindergarten to twelfth grade. This book identifies additional data needed to clarify policy issues or for use in projection models.)
- Bold Plans for School Restructuring: The New American Schools Designs. Sam Stringfield, Steven M. Ross, Lana Smith. Routledge, 1996. ISBN 0-8058-2340-9.
- Bridging the Achievement Gap. John E. Chubb, Tom Loveless. Brookings Institute Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8157-1400-9.
- Projections of Education Statistics to 2008. Debra E. Gerald. DIANE Publishing, 1999. ISBN 0-7881-8364-8.
- Does Money Matter?: The Effect of School Resources on Student Achievement. Michael, H editor. Brookings Institute Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8157-1274-X.