Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The piece below was submitted by a teacher. While the massive layoffs are probably averted due to the passing of the federal stimulus package bill, we may still see class sizes increase from attrition.


I’ve been preparing my fifth grade class for the up coming New York State Math Test. This is the pass or fail exam that parents, students and administrators alike are romanced into thinking will determine each and every child’s fate in the world. We were reviewing factors, multiples, primes and composites: The factors of 9 are 1, 9 and 3. The factors of 16 are 1,16, 2,8,and 4. Out of the blue one of my students, who regularly naps through math, perked up and asked the following:

“What are the factors of 14,000?”

I responded, “That’s kind of a big number. Any reason you chose 14,000?”

“Because that’s the number of teachers that are going to be fired by the mayor.”

He was right.

So, we went on to a much more interesting math problem.

If they’re about 1,100,000 students in the NYC school system, and approximately 79,000 teachers, what is the teacher to student ratio? We found it was about 13, well below what we know it to be. Then we figured that about 25% of those “teachers” were support teachers and specialists, so we did our math again. 60,000 teachers and 1,100,000 students, and the teacher to student ratio came about to about 1:18, still low as we looked around our classroom of 26 kids. We added 10 students to make it a more realistic average of 28 per class, which is congruent with our experience.

But then we fired 14,000 teachers.

And then we did the math.

Now the average was 23 students per teacher. We then estimated that this average was still low, so we added 10 students and got 33.

Then a student raised the question that left me stumped: Why?

Why not cut something else? Why not cut pay of administrators who work at city hall? Why doesn’t the city pave one less street per day to pay for more teachers? Why don’t we have one less bus stop fixed? Why can’t we figure this out?

I looked at my kids and said, “There are many things in this world that I can help you explore, find answers and sometimes simply more questions to research, but this is one area in which I am learning along with you.

Back to our math lesson and factors, multiples, primes and composites. But the mood had changed. The kids had learned a sobering lesson: That some numbers and equations just don’t add up, and never will.

Written by Otis Kriegel, Teacher in District 2 and founder of The K5: Elementary Education for Parents, a parent-advice website (www.TheK5.com)


NYC Educator said...

I'm still stumped. My colleagues and I regularly get classes of 34, and with various loopholes, they often go higher.

Mr. Dugong said...

To make the math make sense. The union contract stipulates that teachers must teach 25 periods per week. So out of an 8 period day, teachers are teaching 5 of those periods. So at any given time during the day approximately 63% of the 60,000 teachers of NYC are teaching students.

This translates into a student to teacher ratio of 29 to 1. By removing 14,000 teachers from the 60,000, you increase that ratio from 29:1 to 38:1.

This is guesswork but it's better than randomly adding 10 students after calculation.

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