Education: Small Wins the Race

Students in small classes, from kindergarten through third grade, have higher graduation rates.

By John St. Godard, published on November 1, 2005 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Parents often believe small classes will give their kids an academic edge. But a study finds achievement gains may be elusive unless a class size of 13-17 students is maintained for at least four years.

Although previous studies have shown the short-term merits of smaller classes, few have probed results from kindergarten to graduation. The research, of Tennessee schoolchildren, shows that students placed in small classes from kindergarten through third grade had graduation rates nearly 12 percent above those in larger groups over the same period.

Policymakers take note: Kids from poor backgrounds make larger gains in small groups than do middle-class children. That's because affluent kids already have many resources and opportunities both inside and outside school compared with underprivileged kids, says McGill University psychologist Jacob Burack.

The study appeared in the Journal of Educational Psychology.