Last spring, I heard about a girl named Megan who had been prevented from graduating with the rest of her 8th grade class because DOE believed she’d failed the state exam. Over the summer, it turned out that she had passed the exam after all. I contacted a reporter, Yoav Gonen of the NY Post, who wrote about her story, as well as the experiences of seven thousand other New York City children who had been prevented from graduating because the DOE had wrongly assumed they had failed their exams. As a result of my contact with Megan’s mom and the articles that followed, the city decided to hold special graduation ceremonies for all of these students.
I also learned of the plight of another child, named Matthew, a third grader with special needs who had been placed in a class of 29. His mother told me that he was completely lost because his class was too large, and he began acting out, with his academic performance tumbling from a level four (advanced) to a two (below grade level), almost overnight. This fall, he was put in an even larger class of 33. We filed a complaint to DOE on behalf of Matthew, demanding that his class size be reduced to no more than the citywide goal of 23 for 4th graders.
Within a few days, the principal told Matthew’s mom that he had figured out how to reallocate enough funds to hire an additional teacher. Matthew is now in a class of 22 children and he is doing just fine.
Matthew and Megan’s stories underscore the plight of so many public schoolchildren who are suffering from rising class sizes and damaging policies that emphasize high-stakes exams to the exclusion of all else. Class Size Matters needs your help to continue our work on behalf of Matthew, Megan and hundreds of thousands of other NYC children, who need our help to give them a real chance to succeed. Please give a tax-deductible donation now, by clicking here.
I am proud that Diane Ravitch calls me “New York City’s leading parent activist” and to be described in the conservative journal Education Next as the "anti-testing and class size matters pit bull." Whatever the political perspective of the commenter, our work is recognized as having kept the issues of educational equity and quality in the public eye.
This was a year in which class size came to prominence in the national arena as well. Mitt Romney was caught on camera in a meeting with some teachers in Philadelphia, arguing with them that class size didn’t really matter. President Obama released a report affirming the importance of smaller classes and showing how class sizes have increased at an unprecedented rate over the last four years. He also ran TV ads about the issue during his campaign.
But sadly, despite the attention given the issue, class sizes are still ballooning out of control in public schools here in NYC & across the country, due to rampant budget cuts that are being exploited by corporate education groups and their billionaire backers to downsize our public schools and siphon critical education funds into the private sector.
Still, we have had some success here and nationally in countering their destructive efforts:
- Last spring, we were the first to write on this blog about the now-infamous Pineapple reading passage, two days after it was featured on the 8th grade New York State exam. The story quickly went viral and caused the NY State Commissioner to remove the passage from the test. More importantly, what has become known as Pineapplegate is now a symbol of how high-stakes testing and for-profit testing companies have victimized children and wasted taxpayer funds.
- In NYC, we provided individualized class size data to every school district in the city, and made numerous presentations before elected officials and community groups, showing how these increased class sizes violated DOE’s promises in the city’s Contract for Excellence plan. The information we disseminated helped generate more than 100 public comments, many of them about DOE’s abysmal record in this regard, and perhaps as a result, the state has still not yet approved the city’s C4E plan.
- We fought off DOE’s attempt to eliminate their mandated reporting on class size and classroom trailers. Our testimony to the Commission charged with deciding whether to eliminate this reporting, as well as protests from parents and public officials who were alerted to this threat through our efforts, caused the Commission to reject the DOE’s proposal.
- We helped lead the charge against the pro-privatization propaganda film, “Won’t Back Down” by preparing a fact sheet that revealed the ideological motives of the film’s right-wing backers, and the way in which its narrative seriously distorted reality. Much of the information in our fact sheet made its way into reviews of the movie, and the film was a huge critical and financial flop.
- More recently, we drew attention to the shocking plan by the NY State Education Department to provide confidential student information to a Gates-funded corporation, which in turn intends to make it available without parental consent to for-profit companies, to help them develop and market their “learning products.”
Our letter to the Attorney General protesting these unprecedented disclosures was picked up by the Associated Press, WNYC, ABC and NY1, among others. Our petition to public officials, the Board of Regents and the Gates Foundation opposing this plan received over 2500 signatures and generated over 10,000 emails. We continue to work hard to try to stop this outrageous project from going forward.
In the past year, we were quoted nearly 100 times in print media, including in the NY Times, Daily News, NY Post, Wall St. Journal, Reuters, The Huffington Post, Associated Press, Scripps Howard, DNA-info, Daily Kos and GothamSchools, among others, and interviews on NY1, CNBC-TV, WCBS-TV , Channel 7, Channel 11, and numerous radio shows. We published Op-Eds in the NY Times’ Room for Debate, U.S. News and World Report, In These Times, The Huffington Post and SchoolBook.
And our work continues:
- We would like to be able to file more class size complaints on behalf of parents and this time, take them all the way to the State Commissioner, to press him to use his authority to make sure that DOE complies with its own class size reduction plan.
- We are continuing to pursue our co-location lawsuit, represented pro bono by Advocates for Justice, to halt the DOE’s provision of free space and services to charter schools, which leads to worse overcrowding and violates state law.
- We are working with other parent and community groups, including NYC Kids PAC and the A+ coalition, to try to ensure that the next administration acts in the interests of children and their families, instead of the corporate raiders who would like to pauperize, digitize, standardize and privatize our public schools.
Please contribute to Class Size Matters, and help us win the fight so that all children receive the support -- and the schools --they deserve.
Just click here to make a tax-deductible contribution, or if you prefer, send a check to Class Size Matters, 124 Waverly Pl., New York, NY 10011.
Thanks so much and have a happy holiday,
Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters