Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Kari Steeves comments to DOE about class sizes in NYC schools and C4E

This excellent letter is from Kari Steeves, public school parent in District 6 where the CFE lawsuit began.  Send your message today!  The official deadline for public comments on the Contracts for Excellence is March 18. Another sample email is posted here.

From: Kari Steeves
Sent: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 9:55 AM
Subject: Adherance to the CFE

To whom it may concern at the Contract for Excellence division of the New York City Department of Education,
Every year since my first child started public elementary school in 2005, class sizes across New York City and in his school have increased, despite that a lawsuit found that New York City's egregiously large class sizes were depriving our children of their constitutional right to a sound, basic education.  I spend time every week in at least one classroom at my children's school.  I see first hand how important it is for children to receive one-on-one attention daily, to work in a gently buzzing room with minimal discipline distractions, and to know they are safe, well cared-for, and part of a well functioning classroom community.  When those conditions are met, children learn well. 
When the ratio of students to teachers increases, even the most magical teachers cannot possibly create the kind of atmosphere the student, you, or I would need to work, concentrate, and learn.  Large classrooms are not safe.  They do not provide for the basic needs of the people in them.  They are loud, crowded, and full of distractions.  Do you work in a small room with 28 other people, 10 of whom have self-control issues?
First and foremost, New York City has an obligation to its children to make sure their environment is conducive to learning and to provide decent quality of classroom life.  (I'm speaking relatively.  I'm not so utopian that I'd hope we reach the private school levels enjoyed by the children of so many of our elected officials.)
Instead the DOE has systematically implemented policies that have increased our class sizes, including decreasing staff size, co-locations, cutting school budgets, placing special needs children in general education classrooms, writing ridiculous school utilization formulas, poor capital planning, relying on union contracts to dictate classroom levels (which are far too high), and producing no targeted programs to reduce class sizes.  Your current proposals do not redress any of these misguided policies.  Rather than pointing the finger at "ineffectual" teachers, the DOE should be providing the kind of conditions that allow our teachers to be effectual and our children to succeed.  The CFE gives very clear targets.  It is the DOE that has been ineffectual at its job of meeting those targets.
At every school tour, parents ask about student/teacher ratios.  It is our first priority and it is our children's constitutional right, because it impacts on safety, quality of life, and quality of learning.  As required by law in 2007, please reduce class sizes in New York City (all of them!) to at or below CFE levels. 
Kari Steeves, parent District 6

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Send an email to the DOE about class size today!

Every year since 2007, parents have voted smaller classes their #1 priority, according to the Department of Education’s own annual surveys. In addition, the state passed a law in 2007 called the Contracts for Excellence (C4E), requiring that NYC reduce class size in all grades, in return for receiving additional state aid. Yet class sizes have increased every single year since then. 
This year, the DOE has posted its proposed C4E plan in February for public comment, long after most of these funds have been allocated and spent.  The deadline for public comment is March 18.  Please send in your comment today, with a copy to John King, the State Education Commissioner.  A sample message is below; feel free to change it any way you like.  You can check out my 20 Questions to DOE, about their lack of accountability in this area. 
We will be presenting at several Community Education Council meetings in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, starting tomorrow in Baruch Middle School on 330 East 21st St., where we will be giving presentations on C4E and class size, and if there is time, speaking briefly about new threats to student privacy.  If you are interested please come, more info about when and where is posted here.
Thanks, Leonie

The DOE has failed NYC children in many ways but in no way more disappointing  than in its failure to live up to its legal and ethical commitments to reduce class size. 

As a parent of a child in a NYC public school, it is unacceptable to me:

·         That NYC public school students continue to be subjected to the largest class sizes in the state;

·         That they have been deprived of their constitutional right to an adequate education because of their excessive class sizes, according to the state’s highest court;

·         That class sizes have risen every year for the last five, and are now the largest in 14 years in the early grades;

·         That DOE continues in its latest C4E proposal to do nothing to reduce class sizes despite a law passed in 2007, requiring them to lower class size;

·         That DOE has never allocated a single penny of the more than $500 million in annual C4E funds to district-wide or targeted programs to reduce class size;

·         That many of the DOE  policies have in fact encouraged INCREASES in class size, including but not limited to the following:

·         Cutting school budgets by 14% since 2008, despite increases in overall education spending and in many other areas;

·         Eliminating the early grade class size funding in 2010, despite a promise to the state to keep the program intact;

·         Stopping capping class size in grades 1-3 in 2011 to 28 students per class;

·         Demanding that special needs children be accommodated in general education and inclusion classes at maximum contractual levels, despite the fact that these students need smaller classes most of all;

·         Refusing to align either its school utilization formula or capital plan with class size reduction goals;

·         Continuing to co-locate new schools in school buildings, taking up every possible inch of space and depriving schools of the ability to lower class size in the future:

·         Holding meetings in February and March for the current year’s C4E proposal, and refusing to hold borough hearings, making a mockery of the public process required by the law.

You have utterly failed in your responsibilities to my child as well as 1.1 million other NYC students, who have been deprived of a quality education because of your continued negligence. 


Name, school, borough

My 20 questions to DOE about their failure to live up to their commitments to our children and in the C4E law to reduce class size

According to the Contracts for Excellence (C4E) law, the DOE is supposed to be reducing class size in all grades, and in the fall of 2007, submitted a plan to do so in along with annual targets and five year goals.  Yet class sizes have risen every year since then.  The DOE finally released its latest proposed C4E plan for the current (2012-2013) school year on Feb. 18 for public comment, long after most of the C4E funding has been spent.   The deadline for public comment is March 18; please send your comments to the DOE by emailing ; please copy Commissioner King at   
The DOE has failed NYC children in many ways but in no way more disappointing  than in its failure to live up to its legal and ethical commitments to our children to reduce class size.  See my 20 questions sent to DOE below. 

From: Leonie Haimson []
Sent: Monday, February 25, 2013 4:21 PM
Subject: twenty C4E questions

1. Why do you not present any data on class size in your proposed citywide plan, your failure to meet class size reduction targets in the past, or any information about your goals for class size moving forward? 

2. Why is there no mention on the C4E webpage about the provision in the state law that obligates NYC to have a plan to reduce class sizes in all grades? 

3. What happened to last year’s class size reduction proposal?  Was it approved by the state and if so, where is it posted?  There is no approved C4E plan posted on your website since 2009-2010.

4. What does this statement mean: “Due to major fiscal changes and challenges since the induction of C4E, NYCDOE and SED are having ongoing communication about NYCDOE’s class size requirements.”  What does the state want you to accomplish in the area of class size, and if so, what is the problem?

5.       5. Why is there is NO deadline for public comment noted either on the C4E   homepage or on the public comment page.  Nor is the deadline mentioned on any of the individual documents in English and foreign languages linked to on that page.  How do you expect the public to know about the deadline if it is not mentioned on these documents?

6.     6. Of the list of public hearings at CECs on the public comment page:  seven are missing, and of those listed, eight are scheduled after the March 18 deadline for public comment has passed.  What is the purpose of a public hearing to give feedback if it occurs after the deadline has already occurred?

7.  7.  Have you made any attempt to alert parents of your C4E proposal and/or inform them as to how they can comment on it, other than posting these documents on your website? 

8.     8. Why have you not scheduled any borough-wide hearings as required by the C4E law? 

9.    9. Given that it is already the end of February and the funds have already been allocated and mostly spent, what is the purpose of holding hearings at all? 

         10. Can you explain the following statement on your C4E proposal: “Please note, as indicated in the FY12 SAM, NYSED allowed NYCDOE to take a portion of the 17.53% reduction from year 1 Maintenance of Effort funds. This leaves $348 million for school allocations and district-wide programs in FY13 and $182 million of year 1 MoE embedded in Fair Student Funding for a FY13 total C4E amount of $530 million. This presentation represents the $348 million.”  What does this mean, and how exactly are the rest of the C4E funds being spent?

1     11. What is the relationship of the maintenance of efforts funds referred to   above, to the $30 Million in Maintenance of Effort funds listed on p. 10 of your summary

 12.  What does maintenance of effort actually mean, given that DOE has not maintained effort on its own support for staffing, but has cut school budgets repeatedly over the last five years, leading to sharp increases in class size

13.  Why have you not allocated any “targeted” or district-wide funds for class size reduction in this or any previous C4E plan, given that reducing class size is a requirement in the law, the top priority of NYC parents in the DOE’s learning environment surveys, and the state’s highest court in the CFE case said that lower class sizes would be necessary to provide NYC students with their constitutional right to a sound basic education?

14.  How do you expect to track whether principals have used their available C4E funds appropriately, given vague assurances like “minimize class size growth”?

15.  You write: “With the guidance and approval of the State Education Department, the NYCDOE has remained committed to monitoring class size through a cross section of schools that represent high class sizes and low performance.”  Which schools are these are why are you just promising to “monitor” class size?  Shouldn’t you be monitoring and reducing class size in these schools and citywide?

16.  Why did the DOE eliminate the Early grade class size funding program in 2010, despite the promise in your C4E plan to keep it?

17.   Why did DOE decide in 2011 to stop capping class sizes at 28 for grades 1-3?

18.  Why did you instruct principals to raise class sizes to the contractual maximum in general ed and inclusion classes, as part of your special education initiative?  Don’t these students need especially small classes to be successful?

19.  Why has the DOE failed to align the “Blue Book” utilization formula or its school capital plan to any class size reduction goals, other than those in K-3 , even though this is required by state law?

20.   How will schools ever be able to reduce class size if DOE insists on co-locating new schools in their buildings, taking up every available inch of space?