Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Our letter to the Chancellor about class size, and what she said in response last night

Update: Please sign our petition, urging the Mayor and the Chancellor to follow through on their promises to voters, and reduce class size now!

Last night, at the District 2 Town Hall meeting with Chancellor Farina, I read aloud excerpts from a letter co-signed by 15 Community Education and Citywide Council presidents, including several members of the DOE's Blue Book and Space sharing Committees, urging her to adopt and implement a class size reduction plan that included smaller classes in all grades, as the Contracts for Excellence law requires.

I mentioned how at a District 15 town hall meeting on May 6, she had responded to the concerns of a parent by saying that a class size of 30 in her child’s third grade was “not outrageous.”  In the letter, we summarize the court decision in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that class sizes in NYC were too large to provide kids with their constitutional right to a sound basic education, remind her about the mayor's promise to reduce class size during his campaign, and the fact that smaller classes is the number one priority of parents.  We also mentioned in passing her participation on one of the CFE expert panels,  whose consensus view urged class sizes of 14-17 students in elementary schools.

The video of her statement at the Brooklyn town hall is below; below that is the video of my reading of the letter and her response, summarized here:

Chancellor Fariña: “I wish it were possible.  Also keeping with the fact that we have UPK in our schools makes it difficult to keep two promises simultaneously.  But you never ever heard me say that those class sizes I would go for; I have a particular feeling there’s such a thing as too small a class size. I feel sometimes class sizes creates cliques, other kinds of non-social relationships .  I dare you to find a place where I said 14-16.  [the letter said 14-17 as the consensus view; for more on this below.] 

“Certainly PreK is 18; early childhood I would say 22-25 is much more reasonable because otherwise we would have to build buildings on top of buildings .  Not to say we shouldn’t have reduced class size.  I also think right now one of my concerns is that middle school is a little too high in some places.  So do I want reduced class size, yes. But there is a limit beyond which I think too small actually hurts kids as much as too big.”

The New York Adequacy Study, Exhibit 2-10 on p. 33 of this report includes the specific class sizes recommended by the Professional Judgement Panels, that were costed out and became the basis for the CFE funding requests.  The chart shows that 14 students per class were recommended for high poverty elementary schools, and 16.8 students per class for low poverty elementary schools.  For middle schools, the recommended class size was 22.6  students, and high schools at 18.4 to 29.1, depending on the poverty level of the school.

The fact that Carmen Fariña served on one of the Professional Judgment Panels is on p.49 and p. 52 of Volume II of the report.The task of these panels was to “design an instructional program that will provide all students in the school a full opportunity to meet the Regents Learning Standards, and to attain a Regents’ diploma.”  Of course, the recommended class sizes cited above were the consensus view of these panels, as we wrote in our letter, not what she may have personally supported.

In any case, in the letter, we urged her to follow up with the mayor’s campaign promise (which he made in response to a NYC Kids PAC survey) to comply with the city’s original C4E plan to lower class sizes to an average of no more than 20 students per class in grades K-3, 23  in 4-8 grade, and 25 in high school. 

Bill de Blasio also promised at a candidate forum on June 14 to reduce class size, and if necessary to raise revenue to do so.  A copy of his signed promise is here.   At the same time, he made it clear he was going to provide expanded preK, and never mentioned that this would conflict with his promises on class size.

As to the Chancellor’s claim that cliques are more pervasive in smaller classes, I had never heard that statement before. Most research seems to indicate that there are better social relationships and less stereotyping in a small class.  Today, I found this study by social psychologist Maureen Hallinan, summarized in the book, The Development of Children's Friendshipsconcluding that the larger the class size, the size and number of cliques modestly increases.  

In any case, the wide ranging benefits of reducing class size are well-known– including its significant impact on narrowing the achievement gap, which the Chancellor went on to say was one of her primary goals.  (The full video of last night’s Town hall is here.) 

Of course, most elite private schools cap class sizes at about 15-18 kids per class, and the Icahn charter chain caps class sizes at 18 per class in grades K-8. If you are a CEC member and would like to sign onto this letter, please let me know by emailing info@classsizematters.org ; you can also email her directly at cgfarina@schools.nyc.org
We will also have an online petition that anyone can sign soon. According to the state’s schedule, districts are supposed to be consulting with parents and other stakeholders about their proposed C4E plan now, before posting it on June 13.  -- thanks, Leonie


Unknown said...

I currently find myself in the position where my wife and i must try to find and fund a private school option for our 3rd grade daughter. The class size of our wonderful PS 321 school is simply too large and the effects on our daughter are starting to pile up. The fact that Ms Fariña finds the need to defend the current class size based on the dubious argument about classes potentially being too small is preposterous. Its an invalid argument, as we should be so lucky.

Southern Expat said...

Wow, she's so full of it. The only statement that is vaguely true is the space issue, which is only a money issue, and of course we know where the money is not going to go - to educating other people's children.

Chaz said...

She has over 1,200 ATRs without a classroom and many high school teachers teaching a sixth class. This is a ready made pool of experienced educators that could lower class sizes.

I also like to point out the many teachers that are not teaching in their content specificity and thats whats best for the students?

My Child is Not a Test Score said...

It would seem to me that if these small class sizes were so problematic, we wouldn't see them in the private schools our policy makers send their children to. This is disturbing to hear our Chancellor defend what educators know about the benefits of small class sizes and parents are clamoring for on every survey. Surely, dedicating more real estate to more schools and giving teachers more jobs could be a goal of the city and the state. Of course, that would mean taxing the rich and corporations.....which does not seem to be their goal. Justifying their life style (small class sizes) while simultaneously justifying ours (overflowing classes) seems like quite a double standard, no?