It is that time of year again -- when DOE submits a totally inadequate Contracts for Excellence plan, which does little or nothing to reduce class size or move our schools forward.
For the first time since the C4E law passed in 2007, I am not urging parents to attend the borough hearings, since there is no evidence that DOE takes the comments of those who show up in person any more seriously than those who submit comments through email. If you really want to attend a borough hearing, there is one remaining in Brooklyn on August 1, 2016 at the Wingate Campus at 7 PM; more info here.
I instead urge you to send a letter to the DOE, the Commissioner, and the Regents about the fact that NYC students are still being denied their constitutional right to smaller classes and the myriad ways DOE is defying the law. A handy letter you can send, edit and/or add details of your own children’s experience is posted on the Action Network site here, you can also find the letter posted below.
The deadline for comment is August 19th and comments can also be submitted by sending e-mails to ContractsForExcellence@schools.nyc.gov. More information from the DOE about the C4E program is here.
Dear Chancellor Fariña:
I write to object to DOE’s proposed Contract for Excellence plan for 2016-2017. Again, not a dollar of the city’s targeted or districtwide expenditures is being spent on reducing class size. While as before, principals are being allowed to spend their discretionary C4E funds under the category of class size reduction, DOE provides no oversight to ensure that they actually do lower class size.
Indeed, many schools are merely filling budget cuts made by DOE in previous years rather than hiring new teachers to reduce class size, violating the prohibition in the law that C4E funds must “supplement, not supplant” district funding. In addition, DOE allows principals to openly use these funds not to lower class size but to “Minimize Class Size Growth.” Even worse, when principals do attempt to reduce class size, the DOE often sends them more students, undermining their efforts.
The result is predictable: class sizes continue to grow, as pointed out in this recent report from the Education Law Center. Classes are now significantly larger than when the C4E law was originally passed, especially in the early grades, and larger than when the state’s highest court ruled that NYC class sizes violated students’ constitutional right to a sound basic education.
The one commitment in the current DOE plan, repeated from last year, is that they will focus their class size reduction efforts on the Renewal schools. Yet even in the case of that limited commitment, DOE has not followed through. An analysis by Class Size Matters reveals that 40 percent of the 94 Renewal schools did not lower class size compared to the year before, 60 percent of these schools continued to have classes as large as 30 students or more, and only seven percent capped class sizes at the more appropriate C4E goals of 20 students per class in grades K-3, 23 per class in grades 4-8, and 25 in core high school classes. This year as last, no class size goals or targets are cited for these schools, and none of the “key elements” of their Renewal plan, according to DOE, even mention smaller classes. As a result, many of the Renewal schools are still struggling.
As a parent, I urge DOE to introduce a real class size reduction plan that will yield positive results for NYC children, and to stop ignoring its legal and ethical obligations. As the authors of the Education Law Center report conclude,
“DOE needs to issue a five-year class size reduction plan with specific annual class size targets along with sufficient funding to achieve those goals. The plan should first focus on lower grades, and schools with the greatest number of low-income children. In the longer term, the DOE should extend this plan to schools citywide, and for all grades, as the law requires, while adopting a school construction plan to ensure there is sufficient space.
The New York State Education Department should refuse to approve any city plan unless it includes specific targets in specific schools a long with sufficient funding to achieve them. The State should also maintain strict oversight to ensure that it achieves these goals.
According to the CFE decision, it is as much the State’s responsibility as the DOE’s to ensure proper class sizes in NYC public schools. If the DOE fails to achieve its annual targets and overall goals, the State should require the implementation of a corrective action plan, and consider withholding C4E funds if the DOE fails to improve its compliance.”