Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Our suggestions to the Blue Book working group; please write your own letter by November 26!

Please write your own letter to DOE's Blue Book working group about how to revise the much-criticized school utilization formula.  Their email is below and  the deadline for submitting comments is next Wednesday, November 26.  They plan to present their initial recommendations to the public in December.  Feel free to include any of the points below; most importantly please mention the need for the Blue Book to be aligned with smaller class sizes, or else NYC children will continue to suffer yet more overcrowding, more co-locations and larger classes in the years to come. 

November 19, 2014

Dear members of the Blue Book Task force:
Thank you for reaching out for suggestions on how to improve the school utilization formula. I urge you to reform the formula so that it takes into account of the following critical factors:
1. The need for smaller classes.  The formula should be aligned to smaller classes in all grades, with the goal of achieving the targets in the DOE’s Contract for Excellence plan of no more than 20 students per class in K-3, 23 students per class in grades 4-8, and 25 students per class in core high school classes.  Right now, the target figures in the utilization formula are much larger in grades 4-12 (28-30) and also larger than current class size averages in 4-12 grades, which are about 26.7-26.8.  They will thus tend to force class sizes upward.  In fact, there is a clause in the C4E law passed in 2007 that requires that NYC align its capital plan to smaller classes – which has yet to occur. 
2. The formula should include space for preK.  This year, there are more than 53,000 preK seats; with 20,000 more seats to be added next year.  According to news reports, 60% of the preK programs this year are in district school buildings.  Without an allowance in the Blue Book formula for preK, the city may be subtracting the space needed to reduce class size, or other critical space needed for a quality education, as noted below.  Our analysis revealed that there are at least 11,839 preK seats sited in buildings this year that were over 100% utilization last year, according to the 2013-2014 Blue Book.
3. The formula should include sufficient cluster and specialty rooms so that all children have the ability to take art, music, and science in appropriate sized classrooms. 
4. Subtract the number of specialty classrooms necessary for a well-rounded education in middle schools, for the purpose of calculating utilization rate, as was done in the 2002-3 formula.  Now, if a middle school specialty room or library is converted into a classroom because of overcrowding, the formula falsely portrays the school has having more space rather than less.
5. In order to maximize classroom occupancy (the current efficiency ratio assumes 90% in middle schools) ensure that teachers have an alternative space to do their prep work and store their papers.
6. Properly capture the need for dedicated rooms to provide services to struggling students and those with disabilities.  The formula now is inadequate and depends on an abstract figure, rather than the actual number of struggling students or students with disabilities enrolled in the school.
7.  Though students housed in trailers or TCUs are now assigned to the main building for the purposes of calculating the utilization rate, those students housed in temp buildings are not.  Neither are students in annexes or mini-schools, even though they often use common spaces in the main building, such as libraries, cafeterias and gyms.  According to our analysis, nearly half of schools with TCUs, annexes, transportables or temp buildings were wrongly reported as underutilized in earlier Blue Books.  The overcrowding caused by assigning all these additional students to shared spaces must be captured in the utilization figure. 

Reforming the Instructional Footprint

The instructional footprint must also be improved, as the DOE uses this highly flawed instrument to determine where there may be space for co-locations.  Here are some suggestions on how to do this:
1. Re-install class size targets into the Footprint.  There are no longer ANY class size targets in the Footprint, which will lead to continued class size increases unless this is remedied.  The original Footprint from 2008 assumed class sizes of 20 students per class in K-3 and 25 in grades 4-5, and none in any other grade.  In 2009, class size targets were raised to 28 in grades 4-5 and in 2011, all class size targets were eliminated except in the case of Alternative learning centers, transfer HS, full time GED programs and YABC programs. Why these changes were made, and why the DOE held that these were the only schools that should be provided with smaller classes was unexplained.  Instead the class size targets should be re-instituted and aligned with those in the Blue Book, as suggested above (i.e. class sizes of 20 in grades K-3, 23 in grades 4-8 and 25 in high school.)
2. Restore the definition of a full size classroom for grades 1-12 to at least 600 sq. ft.  In 2010, the Footprint reduced this to 500 square feet – even though in the building code requires 20 sq. feet per child in these grades; meaning only a maximum of 25 students could be in a minimum size room without risking their safety.  (For comparison, Georgia mandates at least 660-750 square feet for a minimum size classroom, Texas calls for 700- 800 square feet, and California at least 960 square feet or 30 sq. ft. per student.)
3. Special education students should be provided with even more space, according to the NYSED guidelines of 75 sq. feet per child.  Instead, the DOE Footprint specifies only 240-499 square feet for special education classrooms; if the city adhered to the state guidelines, this would allow for only three to seven students per class. 
4. Increase the number of cluster rooms which now are very minimal in the Footprint, especially for large high schools, calling for only two specialty rooms and one science lab, no matter how many students are enrolled in the school.
5. Ensure that the Footprint allows sufficient space for dedicated support services, resource rooms, administrative services, intervention rooms, and SETSS rooms.
I would be happy to answer any questions that you might have; more information about these issues is also available in our report, Space Crunch, available here:


Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011

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