While some statistics are clearly positive or negative by nature (who could argue that a falling murder rate is good news, or that an increasing rate of homelessness is cause for concern?), others are more open to interpretation.

The student-teacher ratio is used as a common measure in evaluating schools and school districts. But, as John Sietsema, Data Consultant with the National Center for Education Statistics, points out, this ratio “is generally used as a measure of school quality and state effort, on the one hand, and inefficiency, on the other, by politicians, policy makers, the press, local educators, and education researchers.”

MuniNetGuide.com is now providing student-teacher ratios in its expanded coverage of school data.

To access information for elementary, middle, and high schools in a particular community:

  • Type the name of the city or town into the MuniNet search field, located to the right of the U.S. map on the home page.
  • Using Scottsdale as an example, once you reach the city landing page, scroll down to just below the middle of the page, and you will see a listing of primary, middle, high, and other schools serving the Scottsdale area.
  • Select from the list of schools – e.g., Desert Shadows Elementary School – to view demographic statistics for that specific school, including number of students per grade level, number of teachers on staff, and student-teacher ratio for the most current data year (2005-2006 at the time of this writing).

On the surface, a low student-teacher ratio looks impressive, but may, in fact, reflect inefficiencies – which simply means that it makes sense to consider other factors in conjunction with this ratio when assessing the quality of any given school.

Class size is another statistics also often considered when looking at schools. In an article entitled, “Class Size and Student Achievement,” the Center for Public Education says that “some researchers have not found a connection between smaller classes and higher student achievement, but most of the research shows that when class size reduction programs are well-designed and implemented in the primary grades (K-3), student achievement rises as class size drops.”

Intuitively, it makes sense that the more attention a teacher can focus on each student, the more the student will benefit and, therefore, perform at a higher level.

While both student-teacher ratio and class size impact teacher workload, the National Center for Education Statistics points out the importance of other factors, including the number of classes for which a teacher is responsible and the number of classes taken by students.

Rhode Island Boasts Lowest Student-Teacher Ratio

Many studies indicate that a lower PTR is beneficial, especially in the lower grades and for children with special needs, according to John Sietsema, of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The student-teacher ratio reflects the number of students per full-time equivalent teacher. This figure differs from class size, as it takes into account part-time teachers, as well as teachers hired to teach specialized subjects to smaller classes, which may include students with special needs.

Which states have the lowest – and which have the highest – median student-teacher ratios?

According to NCES data for the 2005-06 school year, the states with the lowest median student-teacher ratio were:

  • Rhode Island (10.7)
  • Vermont (10.9)
  • Maine (11.7)
  • North Dakota (12.3)
  • New Jersey (12.4)

At the other end of the scale, the states reported to have the highest student-teacher ratio included:

  • Utah (22.1)
  • Arizona (21.3)
  • California (20.8)
  • Oregon (19.5)
  • Washington (19.3)

The U.S. median student-teacher ratio was 15.7 for the 2005-06 school year.