Imagine stepping into a classroom for the first day of school, only to find you have to share a book. Or, worse, a desk.

All too many American schoolchildren now experience this learning impediment. In fact, 60% of fourth-graders and 66% of eighth-graders find themselves in overcrowded classrooms, according to an NAEP math assessment,

As classrooms swell with students, the impact is far-reaching, affecting educational outcomes, student well-being and the very fabric of our educational system.

The Reality of Overcrowded Classrooms

The overcrowding crisis in American classrooms has reached a tipping point, demanding immediate attention from educators, policymakers, and stakeholders alike. 

The issue extends far beyond mere discomfort. It has a direct impact on educational outcomes and the well-being of students. 

The American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card reveals the condition of school buildings in the United States is deteriorating. The organization found that 53% of public schools need investments for repairs, renovations, and modernizations. 

These conditions only exacerbate overcrowding, as many schools are not equipped to handle the increasing student population. 

Zippia’s report on states with the most crowded schools indicates that states like California, Utah, and Oregon face significant challenges with overcrowding, affecting not only educational outcomes but also teacher morale and student mental health.

Overcrowded classrooms aren’t a recent issue, either. Reporting on the 2019 Los Angeles teachers’ strike highlighted the real-world implications of overcrowding. Teachers said large class sizes made it impossible to provide individualized attention, affecting both teaching and learning. Some teachers reported classes with more than 60 students, making effective instruction nearly impossible.

The Causes of School Overcrowding

The root causes of overcrowded classrooms are complex and multifaceted, and it’s important to understand these contributing factors when seeking effective solutions. The causes span from demographic shifts to infrastructural limitations, each adding its layer of complexity to an already intricate issue.

Immigration and Population Growth

Immigration significantly contributes to overcrowded classrooms. In 2021, for example, 11 million public school students lived in immigrant-headed households. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, these children accounted for nearly one out of four public school students – double the 11% in 1990 and more than triple the 1980’s 7%. 

The influx places an additional burden on already limited resources, further complicating the overcrowding issue. Schools in areas with high rates of immigration often find themselves ill-prepared to manage the sudden increase in students.

Meanwhile, as communities grow, so does the number of students enrolling in schools. General population growth frequently outpaces the rate at which schools can expand or construct new facilities. Overcrowded classrooms and stretched resources result, making it challenging for schools to provide quality education.

Lack of Funding

Insufficient funding is another obstacle to reduced classroom sizes. Many school districts are financially constrained, needing help to expand or renovate their facilities to accommodate growing student populations. The lack of financial resources severely limits the schools’ ability to adapt to changing demographics and increased enrollment rates.

The Effects of Overcrowded Classrooms

The consequences of overcrowded classrooms are far-reaching and extend well beyond comfort or academic performance. They impact multiple facets of school life, from students’ and teachers’ health to the strain on educational resources. 

Some of these effects are immediate and long-lasting, and an effective resolution requires understanding their scope and impact.

Poor Achievement

Overcrowding often leads to lower academic performance, a concern highlighted by the National School Boards Association. Teachers struggle to give individual attention in overcrowded classrooms, and students struggle to focus in a cramped environment. The lack of personalized instruction can result in poor academic outcomes.

Increased Health Risks

Overcrowded classrooms can become breeding grounds for diseases, as noted by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Accountability. The lack of space makes it difficult to maintain proper hygiene and social distancing, increasing the risk of spreading illness. This issue gained particular attention during the COVID-19 pandemic when overcrowded classrooms posed significant health risks.


Overcrowding also can lead to increased bullying, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology. In crowded classrooms, teachers often find it challenging to monitor student behavior effectively, providing more opportunities for bullying. This struggle creates an unsafe learning environment, further hindering academic performance and student well-being.

Strain on Resources

Overcrowding significantly strains resources outside the classroom, including libraries, labs, supplies, equipment, and even faculty, as previously illustrated by a California Educational Opportunity Report. These resources, already limited, are stretched even thinner due to overcrowding, affecting the overall quality of education.

Is Overcrowding Causing the American Education System to Fail?

Is overcrowding the reason the American education system is falling behind? While it may not be the sole cause, the growing student population certainly plays a significant role. According to Tech Edvocate, multiple factors contribute to the decline in the quality of American education, and overcrowding is significant among them. 

Overcrowding affects student achievement by limiting the individual attention students can receive from teachers. It strains educational resources, such as libraries and computer labs, essential for comprehensive learning. 

Likewise, overcrowding contributes to health risks, including the spread of diseases, which can lead to increased absenteeism and, consequently, lower academic performance.

These issues create a cycle of educational disadvantage that is hard to break. Overcrowded classrooms not only hamper the quality of education but also create a stressful environment for teachers and students. 

These challenges contribute to the broader issues facing the American education system. Therefore, while overcrowding may not be the only factor causing American schools to falter, it is undoubtedly a significant contributor that requires urgent attention.

Possible Solutions to Overcrowded Classrooms

Addressing the issue of overcrowding requires a multi-pronged approach that goes beyond mere band-aid solutions. As mentioned, the condition of school infrastructure in the United States is a significant concern that directly impacts overcrowding. 

Each solution offers advantages and challenges, from increased funding and alternative scheduling to the introduction of modular classrooms. 

It’s crucial to weigh these options carefully and develop a sustainable strategy that alleviates immediate concerns and offers long-term solutions.

Increased Funding

One avenue to reduce classroom sizes is increased funding, allowing schools to expand or renovate existing facilities. However, funding alone is not a silver bullet and must be part of a broader strategy that includes proper planning and effective resource allocation. The American Society of Civil Engineers emphasizes that while funding is essential, it needs to be strategically used to address the most pressing issues, including overcrowding.

And what happens when that funding simply is unavailable? After all, most American schools are largely funded by local taxes, and communities often hesitate to raise the necessary money. When one Idaho school district found itself short of the needed funds for construction, it established a lease-to-own arrangement with a financial partner to fund the expansion of its facilities. 

Alternative Scheduling

Some schools are exploring staggered schedules to better utilize existing space. The approach temporarily alleviates overcrowding but is not a long-term solution. The change may also introduce logistical challenges, such as transportation and staffing, that must be carefully considered before implementation.

A Montana school superintendent even suggested some high school students take early college classes during parts of their school days, alleviating space constraints at their school as they attend advanced courses at another facility. 

Modular Classrooms

Modular classrooms offer a cost-effective, quick, and scalable solution to school overcrowding. Modular classrooms are economical and flexible since they can be expanded or reduced based on the school’s needs. 

Modular buildings offer a compelling alternative to traditional construction methods, allowing schools to adapt to changing needs without the time and expense associated with traditional construction.

Are Modular Classrooms the Best Solution to Overcrowded Schools?

Modular classrooms offer more than just a quick fix, however. They present a sustainable solution to the problem of overcrowded classrooms, often incorporating eco-friendly materials and energy-efficient designs

School districts can add these flexible options permanently or temporarily by purchasing the buildings outright or paying for them on a lease-to-own basis. Many modular classrooms can provide needed learning space in an affordable format for as long as 25 years, alleviating classroom congestion for years to come.