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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The city's attempt to bury the news of its rejection of the Blue Book Working Group's recommendations on class size

Yesterday, in the middle of summer, the DOE finally released the recommendations of its own Blue Book working group, recommendations which had been finalized last December, according to several reliable sources.  (Chalkbeat wrongly reports the date as March.)  See also Schoolbook, WNYC radio and DNAinfo, for more information on the recommendations -- and what the city refused to accept.

The DOE not only delayed the release of these recommendations for over six months; they refrained from putting out a press release or posting them anywhere on their website, presumably because officials wanted to tamp down as much as possible on the news that the city had rejected the most critical proposal: that the space utilization formula should be aligned with smaller classes.

More specifically, the city signaled that it would not align the class sizes in the Blue Book with the goals in the DOE's original, state-mandated Contract for Excellence plan -- of 23 students per class in grades 4-8 and 25 in high school.  As Lisa Donlan was quoted in Schoolbook,
Certainly for me and for many of us, the class size issue was the biggest issue that we felt would have the greatest impact on bringing us to painting an accurate picture of reality and making sure that all kids got access to an adequate education — hands down," said Lisa Donlan, president of the Community Education Council for District 1 and a member of the working group.
Because the class size standards in the Blue Book (currently 28 students in grades 4-8 and 30 in high school) are larger than current averages, the failure to align the formula with smaller classes will likely stand in the way of efforts to reduce class size, and  contribute to even more overcrowding in the years ahead.

One of the members of the Working Group, Isaac Carmignani, explained the six month delay to  Chalkbeat this way: that the city didn't want the Group's recommendations or (presumably) their rejection to complicate their negotiations over the budget or mayoral control.

If so, this is yet more evidence that they are aware of the political volatility of this issue -- the number one priority of parents according to their own surveys --as well as their unaccountable refusal to take any real action to reduce class size, or even make an honest attempt to calculate which schools could and could not accommodate smaller classes.

While several news accounts correctly reported that this refusal appears to violate numerous promises made by Bill de Blasio during his campaign to reduce class size, and adhere to the original C4E plan approved by the state in 2007, they omitted the fact that he made even more specific pledges to align the Blue Book formula to smaller classes, according to his response to a KidsPAC survey, filled out by his campaign manager, Emma Wolfe, in July 2013:

Also glossed over in some of the news stories is how the city is shirking its constitutional and legal obligations to reduce class size.  In the CFE decision, as pointed out in our press release by Wendy Lecker, an attorney at the Education Law Center, the state's highest court said that NYC public school students were denied their constitutional right to an adequate education, in large part because of their excessive class sizes -- a denial in which this administration is now actively complicit.

The Working Group's letter, co-signed by Lorraine Grillo, President of the School Construction Authority and Shino Tanikawa, the President of CEC D2,  complete with its the recommendation on class size is posted on Chalkbeat.  Yet nowhere can I find online the email sent to reporters, containing the list of the specific proposals the DOE is going to accept, and those they are still considering. Few of those they are planning to adopt relate to actual changes to the Blue Book utilization formula.   So, for the record,  here they are: 
The DOE plans to adopt the following recommended changes to the Blue Book:
·         Publish capacity information for Public Assembly spaces (gymnasiums, cafeteria, etc.) in the PASS [the Principal's Annual Space Survey]
·         Include the total enrollment population of English Language Learners (ELL) in PASS
·         Include the total enrollment population of students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in PASS
·         Designate private counseling space for elementary and middle schools that currently do not account for private counseling space
·         Establish teacher workrooms at the middle school level to ensure teachers have an appropriate place for a prep period and encourage principals to allow available space to be used as teacher workrooms, subject to repurposing at the principal’s discretion
·         Include information on total enrollment, utilization, and capacity of school buildings within a particular grade level in a geographic district
·         Increase the minimum number of cluster rooms to two for elementary level schools with an enrollment at or below 250 students and conduct further analysis to determine a minimum for schools larger than 250 students

The DOE further agrees that the BBWG should continue to meet in order to monitor progress and make further recommendations as needed. The next Blue Book will be published later this summer or early fall.

The following recommendations require further study and analysis, which the DOE commits to undertake over the next year:
·         Change the formula for Special Education and English Language Learner space allocation based on the population of the targeted students
·         Require a minimum and maximum number of administrative spaces within a school.
·         Change the formula for specialty room allocations for grades 6-12 so there is a minimum of three for all schools
·         Transitioning the specialty room allocations for secondary level schools, grades 6-12 and 9-12, to a formula based model with minimum and maximum spaces allowed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't see a real difference between the DeBlasio administration and Bloomberg. In many ways it worse. In the vast majority of high schools there 34 to class. There's less discipline, more testing, more stress, and very little learning going on. Lowering class size is a no brainer - but the city won't do it. That fact tells me none of this is about education- it about meeting legal requirements.