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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

School size matters

July 22, 2009

The elementary school my girls go to recently underwent a huge renovation to accommodate predicted growth in our area. In addition to the growth, about 100 kids are being redistricted to our school because the other local school is overcrowded. Our school will be opening with over 500 kids this fall, a much larger population than we've had in the past.

We'll have four or five classrooms per grade level, around 90 kindergarten students, and a bloated third grade with over 95 third graders. Any way you look at it, that's a big school, especially at the elementary level! On average, research summaries indicate that the most effective size for an elementary school is in the range of 300-400 students.

As an educator, I'm worried about my kids going to such a big school. I'm familiar with the challenges facing large schools, among them lower achievement, increased behavior problems, less opportunities for teachers to collaborate, less interaction between teacher and student. I know those problems are of greater concern for large middle and high schools, but they can be issues within elementary schools, too.

Our principal is great, and she's already thought through natural subdivisions across grades and physical spaces. The school will be divided into different regions, and the kids will interact mostly with kids from one or two other grade levels. Assemblies and performances will be divided into two sessions. Teacher planning time will be coordinated so that grade-level and cross-grade level planning can occur. I know she'll do everything she can to make this a smooth transition and a great learning environment for all kids. There's just so many kids!

Stay tuned this year as we experience this larger school setting! And please share any experience you've teaching or sending your kids to a large (or small) school.


I teach in a small PK-8 school (230 kids), one section per grade. The difficulty we have on occasion is that when there are students who distract one another or who decide they cannot stand one another, we have no options. It would be nice to put one of the pair in another section, but that is not possible. J Sloan's idea that big schools get kids ready for middle schools, which are sometimes bigger than already-big elementary schools, is a good one. Our school gets many kids applying in the upper elementary grades because their parents fear the big middle school. Many of these students would probably be fine in a big middle school. And middle school students generally do not like small elementary school classes because there is (to them) a limited number of possible friendships.

I completely agree and understand the author's hesitance about the matter. I am an urban music teacher and I teach in 3 buildings k-12. The schools that I teach in are relatively small. My husband is also a teacher in a local suburban district. Their elementary schools generally have 300-400 students. The school that my daughter is supposed to go to, however, has around 1200 students k-4. I am extremely uncomfortable with her going to such a large elementary school. She has been in a small Catholic school for preschool and will be going there for full day kindergarten. I do not know what we will do after this year. I prefer to keep her in the Catholic school, but we will have 2 in school at that time, so financially it will be tough. I have taught in enough buildings to know the differences that can exist. However, school size is not the only consideration that should be made. It is important to look at class size, teacher retention, and a sense of community that are in each building.

I teach in a K-5 school where there are 5 classes per grade level, 90 - 100 students per grade level. I feel we are a close knit school with the teachers working well together and sharing ideas and materials. I feel the atmosphere of the school is the important factor to consider and not just the size of the school. Look at the students going on to a upper elementary or middle school and the success they are having as they enter there. I feel these are the important ideas to ponder, rather than just the size of the school.

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