Saturday, May 24, 2008

The results of our principal survey on school overcrowding

Last week, Prof. Emily Horowitz and I released the results of our principal survey on school overcrowding.

It's based on the responses of nearly 500 school leaders --over one third of all NYC public school principals. I thought I was unshockable -- but the results disturbed even me. As I said to the NY Post, in the richest city in the world, after three years of $4-5 billion surpluses in a row, our students are still learning in third world conditions. Every right-thinking New Yorker with a conscience should be ashamed.

Fifty-four percent say that the enrollment at their own school is not capped at a level to prevent overcrowding. Half say that overcrowding sometimes leads to unsafe conditions for students or staff; 43% observe that overcrowding makes it difficult for students and/or staff to get to class on time.

Nearly half (48%) of respondents believe that the official DOE utilization rate for their own schools is inaccurate and underestimates the actual amount of overcrowding; more than half (51%) of principals at schools officially reported as underutilized say that the rate is incorrect.

Eighty six percent believe that class sizes at their schools are too large to provide a quality education – and that what prevents them from reducing class size is primarily a lack of control over enrollment and space.

More than one fourth (26%) of all middle and high school principals say that overcrowding makes it difficult for their students to receive the credits and/or courses needed to graduate on time.

At 25% of schools, art, music or dance rooms have been lost to academic classrooms; 20% of computer rooms have been given up; 18% of science rooms; 14% of reading enrichment rooms, and 10% of libraries have been converted to classroom space -- and this process is still ongoing.

27% said that specific DOE policies had led to more overcrowding at their schools -- including the insistence at putting new charter schools and small schools in existing school buildings.

At 29% of schools, lunch starts at 10:30 AM or earlier; and at 16% of schools, students have no regular access to the school’s library.

18% of principals reported that their schools have classrooms with no windows. Many say that special education classes and services are given in inadequate spaces, including closets.

Principals also report ongoing battles with DOE over their schools’ capacity ratings, and many expressed resentment at being sent excessive numbers of students, particularly after they have tried to use available funding to reduce class size.

The thrust of the DOE's current ideology assumes that the educators at each school are primarily responsible for the success or failure of their students. Accordingly, the administration has devolved more responsibility and autonomy to principals to improve academic results, with the presumption that they have at their disposal the tools they need to succeed.

Yet as these principals say, they have no control over some of the most important factors determining the quality of their schools: the allocation of space and the number of students assigned to their schools. These remain entirely within the control of the DOE. In the view of an overwhelming majority of principals, the resulting overcrowding prevents them from reducing class size to appropriate levels and being able to provide critical programs

The full report is here.

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