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Monday, October 15, 2007

High School Class Sizes – One School’s Story

As a consequence of a mistaken UFT press release and local newspaper reports back in mid-September claiming that my son’s school, Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics (MCSM), had 101 class size contract violations (35 or more students assigned to a class), I had reason as President of the PTA to inquire as to the facts. I was invited to review the school’s class master in detail and did so. While there were indeed very few classes of 35, all of which have since been remedied, I was deeply disturbed by what I saw two weeks into the school year, through no fault of the school administration or its teachers.

The daily reality at MCSM is one of crushing class sizes and teacher workloads. Consider a profile of just the core general education academic classes for Regents Math, English, Science, and Social Studies.

Number of Regents subject classes – 145
Number of classes with 35 students – 3
Number of classes with 34 students – 69
Number of classes with 33 students – 38
Percent of classes with 33 or more students – 75.9%
Average class size, Regents subjects – 32. 75

Add in the rest of the non-AP academic classes, such as Pre-Calculus, Multimedia I, computer programming, Introduction to Psychology, Environmental Studies, foreign languages, and so on, and the picture is no better.

Number of non-AP academic classes – 205
Number of classes with 35 students – 5
Number of classes with 34 students – 93
Number of classes with 33 students – 51
Percent of classes with 33 or more students – 72.2%
Average class size, non-AP academics – 32.38

This situation exists in a school that, according to the DOE’s Fair Student Funding formula, stands to lose $426,000 from its budget in 2009!

While the Mayor and Chancellor fumble every day over multiple jargon-laden programs styled as school reforms – increased standardized testing, elimination of social promotion, dissolution of community school boards, regionalization and deregionalization of the organizational structure, creation of empowerment zones, quality reviews, accountability, school report cards, new school funding schemes, computerized student progress tracking via ARIS, paying students to attend school and pass tests – 1,540 high performing students (over 97% children of color) are shoehorned into classrooms while their teachers are burdened with intolerable workloads from as many as five classes with 33 or 34 each, up to 165 – 170 students.

It is a credit to the collective abilities and efforts of students, faculty, and Administration at MCSM that the school manages to succeed in daily attendance (93 – 95%), Regents pass rates (70 – 95% over 65), and graduation rates (85+%) despite these adverse conditions. Nevertheless, I am certain from my own experience as a former NYC high school teacher that these 1,540 students are being deprived of the rich educational experience they deserve because of overwhelming class sizes and teacher workloads.

This situation is intolerable and only getting worse. How can the Mayor and Chancellor repeatedly strike out in so many different and sometimes radical directions without aggressively exploring this single most obvious and effective approach to improving student performance and learning? Is it not about time they gave class size reduction the same degree of attention and priority they have given to standardized testing, bureaucratic reorganizing, quality reviews, and school report cards? What is the value of Mayoral control if the Mayor makes no effort to address one of the public school system’s most pressing issues?


Anonymous said...

Is this the school that the DOE tried to appoint the infamous Jolanta Rohloff as principal???

Steve Koss said...

Yes, it is the same school. We now have an interim acting principal, a former AP from the High School for Environmental Studies in Manhattan.

jonathan said...

Steve, you made the point by posting. But is there anything internal to the school that can reduce class size? Programming? Reallocating funds? Prioritizing different classes?

This is the sort of thing that in theory an SLT would discuss... but I doubt that most of them would.

Steve Koss said...

I've already been approached by our Interim Acting Principal about forming a Class Size Committee with the APs and UFT to explore ways of reallocating staff and/or funds. Of course, I agreed to participate. I'm not sure how much "slack" there is in teacher staffing, funding, or available classrooms, but that would seem to be the purpose of investigating. Perhaps some small changes could be made, like eliminating grade level advisory positions so those individuals could return to teaching 25 periods, but of course that becomes a tradeoff against other services those teachers provide by tracking their grade level cohorts for four years as advisors (and the effects they hopefully have on students' success and graduation rates). We'll see what comes out of it, and maybe I'll be able to do another posting on it later.

Elizabeth Halsted said...

Steve, thank you for your posting. It reads like a good Op-Ed piece that I would like to see in the major newspapers. You hold the DOE responsible for its failure to address the obvious problems of overcrowding and class size in the schools. The response postings seem to take on the position that the administrators, teachers and parents should continue to try to make these unreasonable conditions work.

jonathan said...

Elizabeth says "The response postings seem to take on the position that the administrators, teachers and parents should continue to try to make these unreasonable conditions work."

I think 3 things must be done:

1. identify the root cause(s) of the problem
2. work to address the root cause(s)
3. In the interim, do as much as possible to ameliorate the unreasonable conditions.

I wouldn't want to advocate #3 without #2 or #2 without #3.