Official State Study Urges Smaller Pre-K Class Sizes, Lower Student-to-Teacher Ratios

State legislation passed last year at the urging of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott restored some—but not all—the funding for pre-kindergarten programs lost to ill-conceived budget cuts in 2011. One piece of that 2015 legislation called for a study by the Texas Education Agency to develop recommendations regarding optimal class sizes and student-to-teacher ratios. This month TEA published the resulting study, based in part on close observation of 97 pre-K classrooms across 32 campuses in 16 districts. Here’s the study’s main recommendation:

Class size guidelines should be set to a maximum not to exceed 22 students per prekindergarten classroom. Given the class size recommendation, a student-to-teacher ratio not to exceed 11:1 is recommended for all public prekindergarten classes with between 16 and 22 students.

The study found that only 58 percent of the pre-K classrooms observed met the recommended 11:1 pupil-teacher ratio.

The TEA study found good reason to believe that even smaller pupil-teacher ratios not exceeding eight to one are desirable. Nationwide research cited in the study supports the eight-to-one ratio as optimal for positive outcomes for pre-K children, along with class sizes no greater than 20.  TEA reports that three states comparable in size to Texas—California, Florida, and New York—cap pre-K class sizes at 20 and pupil-teacher ratios ranging from 8:1 to 10:1.

Texas law currently does not set any firm cap on pre-K class size. Rather, as the TEA-commissioned study notes, the agency “encourages” school districts “to maintain and not exceed the 22:1 ratio” that state law does require for K-4 classes. Further, districts that offer pre-K programs under the new High-Quality Prekindergarten Grant program “must attempt to maintain an average ratio in any prekindergarten program class of not less than one teacher or teacher’s aide for every 11 students.”

It is to be hoped that this TEA report and its recommendations will spur efforts to boost pre-K funding and reduce pre-K class sizes and pupil-teacher ratios in the 2017 legislative session. The TEA study also should strengthen resistance to the efforts of some lawmakers to punch loopholes in the state’s K-4 class-size limits and to eliminate notice to parents when those class-size caps are exceeded.