Monday, December 10, 2018

Letter to Chancellor Carranza, urging him to reduce class size in the Renewal schools to give them the best chance to succeed

This letter was sent to Chancellor Carranza today, in light of news reports that the DOE is considering making changes to the Renewal program or possibly discontinuing it.  Class Size Matters has long been concerned about the failure of DOE officials to make concerted efforts to reduce class size in these struggling schools, especially in light of repeated promises to the state in their Contracts for Excellence plans to do just that. 

December 10, 2018

Dear Chancellor Carranza:

I wanted to reach out to you about the Renewal schools after our brief conversation on Thursday night at the AQE event.  According to news reports, the DOE is now deciding whether to discontinue, phase out or revise the Renewal program for struggling schools, which is now in its fourth year and has shown “mixed” results in the eyes of most observers, after costing an estimated $750 million .[1]

Since 2014, the DOE officials have claimed in their Contract for Excellence (C4E) presentations and plans submitted to the State Education Department that they are “focusing” their efforts on reducing class size on the Renewal schools.  For example, here is an excerpt from this fall’s C4E proposed  plan:[2]

For the 2018-2019 school year, the DOE will continue its efforts to reduce class size, which is one of the allowable activities for which Contracts for Excellence funds may be spent, pursuant to the C4E legislation, in the following ways:
  • Last year, NYCDOE focused on class size reduction in the Renewal School Program. These schools align well with the goals of Contracts for Excellence, as they serve students with the greatest educational needs, including students in poverty, students with disabilities, and students with limited English proficiency, and many of these schools are historically underperforming and have high class sizes. 
  • For the 2018-2019 school year, NYCDOE will continue to focus on the Renewal Schools in its class size reduction efforts.
Yet as we presented in our testimony last year to the City Council, in nearly half (or 42 percent) of Renewal Schools, there was no reduction in average class size from November 2014 to November 2017. [3] Of the Renewal Schools that did not reduce class size, the average increase in class size was more than two students per class, with some schools increasing class sizes significantly more than that.

Even among those schools that did lower class sizes, 18 percent did so by less than one student per class on average. Not one of the Renewal schools capped class size at the levels in the DOE’s original C4E plan to be achieved citywide, that is, no more than 20 students per class in grades K-3, 23 students in 4th-8th grades and 25 students per class in high school.  Worse yet, in 73 percent of the Renewal schools, maximum class sizes were 30 students or more.

We have now analyzed this fall’s class size data, which show that more than one third, or 36 percent, of the remaining fifty Renewal schools have not reduced average class size by even a fraction of a student since 2014. Over that same period, fewer than half (48  percent) decreased average class size by one student or more. None of the Renewal schools capped class sizes this fall at the original C4E goals, and again, nearly three quarters (74 percent) continue to have maximum class sizes of 30 or more.

The evident failure of the DOE to focus on reducing class size in these schools is also indicated by the form letter sent to parents with children at these schools. [4]   Though the letter claims that “Every effort is being made to provide the highest quality instructional program to best meet the needs of your child,” no mention is made of smaller classes, which are key to providing a high-quality learning environment. Instead, the letter lists several different “interventions” including “partnerships between families, community-based organizations”, expanded learning time, vision testing, “enhanced curriculum,” teacher training, and new “data systems.”

It is profoundly disappointing that no systematic attempt has been made to improve the learning conditions at the Renewal schools through class size reduction.  This is especially true because abundant research shows that smaller classes offer a host of academic and social- emotional benefits, leading to higher achievement, more student engagement and persistence, less teacher attrition, and improved graduation rates, especially for economically disadvantaged children and students of color.[5]

Indeed, our analysis last year showed that there was a significant negative correlation between average class sizes at Renewal schools, and the quality of these schools, as measured by their impact scores on the DOE performance dashboard. [6]   Impact scores as calculated by DOE measure achievement, attendance, and in high schools,  graduation rates, while attempting to control for student background and need level.[7] This significant correlation provides evidence that the smaller the class sizes, the more likely Renewal schools have improved student outcomes.

I urge you to do right by all Renewal schools and their students by allocating targeted funding for class size reduction, to provide them with the best chance of success.

Yours sincerely,

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director

Cc Commissioner MaryEllen Elia
Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa
Regents Kathleen Cashin, Luis Reyes, Nan Mead, Lester Young and Judith Chin
NY State Senator Robert Jackson
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson
Council Member Mark Treyger
Council Member Daniel Dromm

[2] Though the presentation is dated August 2018, but has been revised since then and the latest version is dated Nov. 20, 2018 according to the properties tab.

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