What Pittsburghers are Really Saying about Class Size

This week we are looking at the results of the community survey our grassroots movement helped to create. We had nearly 1,000 people respond, mostly in person, with volunteers going door-to-door throughout the city to find out what Pittsburghers have to say about public education. For more on our survey design, how it differs from what the district and its consultants have been doing, and why it matters, check out:

Today, let’s look at what our community says about class size – a significant issue, since any plan to close schools is fundamentally about increasing class sizes in the district. The following is an excerpt from the full report, Creating a District of Last Resort.

Class Size Increases

At private schools and charter schools, and within many public school districts, small class sizes are a source of pride—a selling point to attract parents and students. Perversely, public schools in low-income urban communities with small—or even medium— class sizes are now being labeled as “underutilized” and, in many cases, are being closed because of it.

For example, in Pittsburgh, the average student-teacher ratio in private schools is 10 to 1, and in charter schools it is 12 to 1. [see note, *1] Yet during the Envisioning process, PPS has reported that it is making a deliberate effort to dramatically increase class sizes, through school closings and other means. In fact, its targets are 25 students per class in K-5 and K-8 schools, 28 per class in middle schools, and 30 per class in high schools and 6-12 schools. In other words, PPS’s goal is to have two to three times as many students per teacher as in other local schools. [see note, *2]


The Pittsburgh residents we surveyed believed, by an overwhelming majority, that class size increases would be harmful. We asked what effect larger classes would have on the overall quality of education, and 92 percent said that it would be worse or much worse. Indeed, 32 respondents said education quality would worsen, for every 1 who said it would improve.



*1. National Center for Education Statistics, 2012-13 Private Schools in Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2012-13 Enrollment by LEA and 2012-13 Professional Personnel Summary.

*2. Also of concern is the district’s building utilization analysis. Currently, when the district deems a building to be “underutilized,” it is counting all music, art and other special classrooms as empty. According to this PPS target for school utilization, all music, art and other special classrooms would have to be converted into regular classrooms, leaving no room for these activities.

2 thoughts on “What Pittsburghers are Really Saying about Class Size

  1. How do you not become so disheartened by what you are finding that you give up, Jessie?

    On Thu, Oct 24, 2013 at 7:30 AM, Yinzercati

    • This data is disheartening, but it’s also empowering. We can’t give up! As Diane Ravitch reminded us when she was in Pittsburgh last month, public education is one of the civil rights issues of our time. She also reminded us that the tide is turning — parents, students, teachers, and community members working together make change happen. It *is* happening.

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