California student-teacher ratio highest in the country

The number of public school students for every full-time teacher in California was 23.4 during the 2011-12 academic year, almost 50 percent above the national average of 16 students per teacher. The lowest student-teacher ratio was in Vermont with 10.7 students per teacher.

The National Center for Education Statistics released in October 2013 a preliminary report on all the public schools in the country during the 2011-12 school year. Table 2 which looks at student-teacher ratios in every state caught my eye. It’s calculated by counting up all the students and dividing by all the full-time teachers (or full-time equivalent) teachers. (See Table 2 at the bottom of this post).

My first instinct is that these numbers are misleading. You might well have 30 students in a classroom, as many public schools do in New York City, and yet New York States can still post an overall ratio of 12.9. That’s because there may be lots of specialist teachers, from speech therapists to music teachers, that aren’t a daily presence in the classroom but still count toward lowering the ratio.

I’ve heard from researchers that the United States is obsessed with class sizes and puts a lot of resources into throwing more teachers into schools to lower these ratios, whereas other countries might hire fewer but more qualified teachers. For example, the typical classroom in Japan has more than 30 students. See this OECD explainer on class sizes around the world.

Recently, Malcom Gladwell got into the debate, arguing in his new book that small classes are actually harmful. This New Statesman piece called that “pseudo” science.

Background Reading on Class Sizes

Examining the effect of class size on classroom engagement and teacherepupil interaction: Differences in relation to pupil prior attainment and primary vs. secondary schools by Peter Blatchford, Paul Bassett, Penelope Brown

Class Size: What Research Says and What it Means for State Policy by Matthew M. Chingos and Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst


NCES Table 2 on Student Teacher Ratios

NCES Table 2 on Student Teacher Ratios



POSTED BY Jill Barshay ON October 18, 2013

Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Post a Comment

Jane Gautjier

I am not sure where the numbers for NH are coming from. I have never had 12 students in my 4th grade classroom. Last year I had 26, this year I have 25, and the numbers for next year look about the same. Fifth grade classrooms in my school have 27-28 students. I can’t imagine our cities are any different with the budget cuts in recent years.

Bill Younglove

Where, oh where, is the reality in all of these ratios? Sometime, just give us the ratios for, say, the core subjects–or, perhaps, at least excluding those for special classes. In other words, exactly, apart from said variances, how many students, say, does the classroom English, mathematics, etc. teacher work with in each teaching period?

Bessie Wright

That sounds good; however, one must always take the environment and the culture into consideration. In Japan and other countries they have a firm policy in place in regards to discipline and expectstions of parents and students. Other countries also usually have higher respect for teachers. Furthermore, just because someone is very knowledgeable does not mean that he or she possess the qualities, aptitudes, and characteristics to be an effective teacher. Read the research.

Kim Kaufman

Here are the student/teacher ratios for this year v 2007-2008 for LAUSD as given to me by someone in the finance division:

2007-2008 2013-2014
K-3 20:1 24:1
4-6 28.5 30.5
6-8 Academic 31.1 34.1
Non-Academic 40:1 42.5
9-10 Acad 32:1 34:1
Non-Acad 40.5:1 42.5:1
11-12 Acad. 40.5:1 42.5:1
Non-Acad 40.5:1 42.5:1

As for Malcolm Gladwell…

Kim Kaufman

wow, sorry, the formatting on the chart didn’t stick and it’s really read to read. Imagine there are 3 columns – grade levels at left then 2007-2008 and 2013-2013

Jill Barshay

@Kim Kaufman — It would be nice if Word Press allowed blog readers to post tables, charts and links in the comments section. But thank you for sharing those figures. The numbers are shocking!

Frank Barry

My understanding is that districts include ALL staff in the calculation including the upper admin. I have AVERAGED 28 students over the past decade with my largest group this year of 34.

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