Although many of the effects of overcrowding in schools are not currently visible due to virtual modalities, over enrollment in American public schools is a pressing problem that has been facing our nation for several decades. Overcrowding occurs when a school has more students enrolled than the building was designed to accommodate. This stems from an increased population in the school district, often driven by a multitude of factors, including greater levels of development. Teacher shortages, in addition to lack of funding for education, are also driving forces for overfilled public schools. According to a 1999 report, 22% of schools are overenrolled to some degree, with 8% of schools surpassing their capacity by over 25%. Yet over enrollment is not evenly distributed among public schools. Rather, the percent of minority enrollment in a school is strongly correlated with rates of over enrollment.
Overcrowding has many detrimental ramifications. One consequence of overcrowding is teacher burnout. Overworked and undercompensated teachers are often unable to keep up with the demands of an overcrowded classroom. Additionally, overcrowded classrooms become noisier due to the increased number of students. Not only is this stressful for teachers, contributing to burnout, but it is also very distracting for learners. Increased noise can cause students who are already having trouble focusing to suffer to a greater extent. This, coupled with the inevitability of less individualized attention from teachers in a larger classroom setting, negatively impacts student outcomes. Studies also show that overcrowding leads to increased bullying, which has been proven to negatively affect academic performance. Not to mention that, with more students in a classroom, it is harder to tailor the teaching style to fit all of the students, which means that we move even farther from meeting the educational needs of each student.
Some current solutions in place to combat overcrowding in schools include portable classrooms and short-term instruction buildings. These solutions are not only temporary, but also insufficient, because they result in suboptimal learning environments for students. Another less expensive solution that many schools have implemented includes schedule changing. One popular adaptation involves creating different lunch shifts, so that some students eat very early and some students eat very late, which also negatively affects academic performance.
In order to combat this ever-growing problem, we must shift our focus away from inexpensive efforts that decrease the quality of education. If we want to set a trajectory for long-term success in combating overcrowding, we must increase funding for education and rezone school districts as the population in different areas shifts. These plans must be implemented quickly, in hopes that we can provide the proper instructional environment for America’s youth as they return to in-person learning.
Not only will these efforts benefit current American students, with emphasis on aid to minority students, but they will also dismantle anti-immigration activists’ argument that the United States should limit immigration in order to avoid further overcrowding. Rather than narrowly focusing on current shortcomings, we must look toward solutions to fortify long-term successful growth.