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Friday, July 6, 2007

The city's class size reduction proposal; smaller by 1/3 of a child?

Yesterday, DOE released its state-mandated proposal for class size reduction.

For news clips about their proposal, and our reaction, see articles in today’s
NY Times, the NY Sun, the Daily News, and the SI Advance. For the proposal and all the documentation, check out the DOE website here.

As you may remember, the new state law requires the city to submit a five year class size reduction plan for all grades, as part of its “contracts for excellence”. This was a massive battle that we won, with your help, this spring. Yet there is nothing in the documents that DOE released yesterday that even resembles a five year plan.

There are no goals, no benchmarks, no time tables, no specific budgetary allocations, and no provision of space that would ensure that significantly smaller classes in any grade would ever become a reality.

Even as a one year plan, the proposal falls far short of adequate. What the DOE has simply done is aggregate the choices of those principals who have said that they intend to hire extra teachers with their “fair student funding” allocations, out of a menu of five different options. Whether this will ever lead to smaller classes is anyone’s guess.

In the initial years, the state law requires that the city’s efforts to reduce class size should be focused first on low-performing and overcrowded schools. Yet our analysis shows that 47% of all city schools on the state failing list will receive no FSF funds at all – and thus the principals of these schools were provided with no real option to reduce class size. (For more on this, click here.)

Most of the other low-performing high schools in the city are severely overcrowded, without sufficient space to reduce class size. In fact, DOE’s own figures show that more than half of failing schools with very large class sizes (in the top quartile) are currently at 100% utilization or more.

Accordingly, the state law not only requires a five year class size reduction plan for smaller classes in all grades, but also that the city’s capital plan for schools be aligned with their class size plan, so that in future years, there will be sufficient space for smaller classes in all schools. Yet the city’s capital plan only provides enough space for smaller classes in K-3, and assumes maximum class sizes in all other grades.

The DOE has not reported how many additional general education classes will be formed with the FSF allocations; thus it is difficult to predict whether their plan will even lead to smaller classes anywhere. They have said that they “project” smaller classes as a result, of about .3-.8 students per class on average – yes, that’s 1/3 to 4/5 of a student. (see above photo for a visualization)

Yet this amount is so minimal, and the class size data that DOE reports is so error-prone that this will be difficult to even track.

Moreover, enrollment is still falling i by about 1.5% per year. Thus, much of this decline would occur in any case, without any concerted effort to reduce class size, which we see no evidence of in this case.

There are many other problems with their “contracts”. For example, DOE claims that their $40 million accountability initiative should be paid for under the contracts, including $17 million for the interim assessments, even though this falls under none of the categories set out in the regulations. They also claim that the assessments, in which students will be tested an additional five times in English and math starting next year, will create more instructional time rather than subtract from it.

So what can we do?

1. Robert Jackson, original CFE plaintiff and chair of the City Council Education committee is holding a press conference on Sunday, to express his views about whether this proposal is an adequate solution to the problem of class size in our schools, the issues he raised in the CFE case, and whether it complies with the state law. Please come and bring your kids! Encourage your elected representatives to attend as well. Signs are welcome, as would be any visual that shows how paltry a mere one third of a child reduction in class size really is. (What portion of your child would you leave out? An arm, a leg – god forbid, a head?)

WHO: Education Chair Robert Jackson, Class Size Matters, Educational Priorities Panel (EPP), Parent to Parent, Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), and other education advocates and elected officials; parents are invited!

WHERE: City Hall Steps

WHEN: Sunday, July 8, 2007

TIME: 11:30 am

2. All parents, teachers and others who care about the future of education in this city really should come and testify at the borough hearings next week; the meeting times and places are below. Transcripts will be taken of your remarks and sent to the State Education Commissioner to read when he is considering whether the city’s proposal (let’s not call it a plan) is acceptable.

3. Take a look at the talking points posted here: The DOE is very clever, in trying to package this as a real class size reduction plan, though as I said to the press, it is more of game of 52 pick up. Throw the cards in the air and see where they land. From all indications we have from past experience, we would get no real improvements if it goes forward.


Hearings Monday- Thursday of next week in all five boroughs. Come no later than 5:30 PM to sign up to speak; speaking time will be limited to two minutes.

Monday, July 9, 2007
6:00 p.m.
Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice
244 East 163rd Street
Bronx, NY 10451

Tuesday, July 10, 2007
6:00 p.m.
Brooklyn H.S. for the Arts
345 Dean Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Wednesday, July 11, 2007
6:00 p.m.
Millennium High School
75 Broad Street
New York, NY 10004

Staten Island
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
6:00 p.m.
Michael J. Petrides H.S.
715 Ocean Terrace,
Staten Island, NY 10301

Thursday, July 12, 2007
6:00 p.m.
Thomas A. Edison Career & Technical Education H.S.
165-65 84th Avenue
Jamaica, NY 11432

Written comments regarding the Contracts for Excellence will be accepted through July 14, 2007 at:

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