This is the first of two articles examining elementary-grade class sizes in Minneapolis Public Schools. The second article will look at a proposal from the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers to further reduce class sizes in the district.

According to Minneapolis Public Schools data, class sizes in elementary grades averaged just under 22 students in the 2022-23 school year. Class sizes were smallest in second grade and largest in fifth grade.

Most parents and educators view small class sizes as a good thing for students. Policies targeting smaller class sizes became popular in the United States after an experiment in Tennessee, conducted in the late 1980s, showed that reducing class sizes in kindergarten through third grade from 30 students to 20 students improved standardized test scores. However, small classes can be expensive for school districts to implement.

The Minneapolis Public Schools’ magnet schools boast the lowest average class sizes in elementary grades, averaging just over 18 students per class. Elementary schools in the attendance area for Roosevelt High School, which include Northrop, Hiawatha, Howe, Lake Nokomis Keewaydin and Lake Nokomis Wenonah elementary schools, have the highest class sizes in the district, averaging just over 25 students per class.

In schools that receive additional federal Title I funding, the average elementary class is just over 20 students. Currently, the district allocates Title I funding to schools where at least 40 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price meals under federal guidelines. In schools that do not receive Title I funding, class sizes average 24.5 students per class.

The collective bargaining agreement between the district and its teachers also includes class size caps.

In the 2022-23 school year, the first year when class size caps in the collective bargaining agreement were in effect, 10% of elementary classrooms exceeded the caps set in the collective bargaining agreement. There was variation across the district in which schools had classrooms that exceeded the caps. Just 3% of classrooms in the elementary schools that feed into Southwest High School exceeded the caps, but 19% of the classrooms in the elementary schools that feed into Edison High School exceeded the caps.

The lowest class size caps in the union contract apply to schools where more than 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. At these schools, 21% of classrooms exceeded the class size caps. Only 2% of classrooms in schools where less than 70% of students qualify for free or reduced price meals exceeded the caps.

At the schools with the lower classroom size caps, more than 10% of classrooms in each grade level from kindergarten through third grade exceed the caps. These are the grade levels where research has documented the largest positive impact of small class sizes on student outcomes. In schools where less than 70% of students qualify for free or reduced price meals, there were no classrooms that exceeded the caps in grades first, third, fourth or fifth grade.

About 3% of all elementary classrooms had more than 30 students in the 2022-23 school year.

The district has not yet responded to a July 2023 public data request from Minneapolis Schools Voices for class sizes in middle school and high school in 2022-23, or a request for data on class sizes for the current school year.