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5 Ways That Overcrowded Classrooms Affect Education

Overcrowded classrooms can have a detrimental effect on both students and teachers. Here’s how.

Overcrowded classrooms can have a harmful effect on both teachers and students. A 2021 article for The Tech Edvocate listed classroom overcrowding as one of “20 reasons why the American education system is failing.”1 The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) defines classroom overcrowding as “when the number of students enrolled in the school is larger than the number of students the school is designed to accommodate” and notes that a classroom is considered overcrowded when it exceeds 5% of the building’s designed capacity.2 Factors such as teacher shortages, increased enrollment, and decreased funding have, unfortunately, made overcrowded classrooms a common feature of American schools.3


As an experienced educator, you know how classroom size correlates to learning outcomes. And you know how much more difficult crowded classrooms can make your life as a teacher. From less individualized instruction to greater distractions and disciplinary issues, filling classrooms with more students than intended can affect teachers’ ability to teach effectively and students’ ability to learn. Here are several ways overcrowded classrooms affect learning.

Greater Noise and Distractions
Having more of anything can lead to chaos. An ideal classroom would be limited to 15 to 20 students, but many classrooms today have over 30 or even 40 students.3 Naturally, the more students there are, the noisier it gets—even in classrooms that are effectively managed. The increased noise level can make it harder for kids to concentrate, affecting learning outcomes, and more difficult for teachers to focus, leading to more stress and possible burnout.3

Less Personalized Instruction
The greater the number of students in a classroom, the less attention each student can receive from the teacher. This particularly affects students who are struggling and need the extra attention. This impacts learning outcomes, as these students are more likely to have lower test scores and grades as a result.3

Increase in Disciplinary Problems
Overcrowding can lead to a chaotic classroom environment that is more difficult for the teacher to manage. The increased number of students leads to a greater likelihood of disruptive behavior and conflicts among students, especially with fewer resources to accommodate the extra students. Teachers in overcrowded classrooms often devote more time to dealing with behavioral issues and less time to teaching—something no teacher desires.3

Poor Building or Environmental Conditions
Schools with overcrowded classrooms are also more likely to have poor building or environmental conditions, as noted by the NCES, which cited a study claiming that overcrowded schools “were more likely than schools that were either under enrolled or within 5% of their capacity to have at least one building feature in less than adequate condition.”2 This could include poor air conditioning and heating systems, lighting, ventilation, indoor air quality, acoustics or noise control, and physical security.2

Increase in Illness Risk
The poor building conditions found in overcrowded schools also pose health risks for students and teachers. Poor ventilation, lighting, acoustics, and classroom temperatures can expose students to allergens, pollutants, and even chemicals that affect health, attendance, and performance.4 Of course, in terms of the ongoing fight against COVID-19, overcrowded classrooms don’t lend themselves to social distancing and therefore make it easier for germs to spread. This has become a major concern for parents, teachers, and students.

There are solutions for school overcrowding, but they are not simple ones. Major repairs, renovations, and even total building replacements are sometimes necessary.5 To ease overcrowding, many schools implement strategies such as staggered student schedules or the use of portable classrooms.2

As an experienced educator, you know that schools need your experience and commitment to make a positive impact. You may not be able to control overcrowding, but you do have control over the investment you make in yourself as a teacher. With a MS in Education from Walden University, you’ll be better prepared to face the issues of today’s schools and to make a greater difference in the lives of your students.

Walden’s graduate program in teaching is structured around the busy lives of teachers like you. Choose from a traditional, accelerated, or intensive one-credit format depending on what works best for you. With more than a dozen specializations to choose from, you’re bound to find a path that matches your passion.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering the online MS in Education program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,