Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Why Bloomberg's attack on class size doesn't add up; my oped in the Washington Post (plus charts!)

Last month, Michael Bloomberg wrote an oped in Bloomberg News that was reprinted int the Washington Post and the NY Post, vociferously attacking the new NY class size law.  Below is a copy of my oped in today's  Washington Post AnswerSheet with a couple of charts and the image of a Michael Bloomberg campaign flyer added.  In this piece, I dispute Bloomberg's claims and analyze why he appears so passionately opposed to lowering class size, despite the fact that he campaigned for smaller classes when he first ran for Mayor.

Why a new attack on small class size doesn’t add up

In 2014, I wrote this: “Every now and then someone in education policy (Arne Duncan) or education philanthropy (Bill Gates) .... will say something about why class size isn’t really very important because a great teacher can handle a boatload of kids.”

Well, some can do that, but anybody who has been in a classroom knows the virtues of classes that are smaller rather than larger even without the research that has been shown to bear that out.

Now the issue is back in the spotlight, this time in New York City, where a new state law requires the public school system — the largest in the country — to reduce class sizes over five years. Opponents of the law are pushing back, especially Mike Bloomberg, mayor of New York City from 2002 to 2013. He called for smaller class sizes in his first mayoral campaign but has now changed his mind.

In an op-ed in several publications, Bloomberg says students don’t need smaller classes but better schools — as if the two were entirely unrelated — and he ignores research, such as a 2014 review of major research that found class size matters a lot, especially for low-income and minority students.

This post, written by Leonie Haimson, looks at the issue, and Bloomberg’s position. Haimson is executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit organization that advocates for smaller classes in New York City and across the nation as a key driver of education equity.

Class size matters a lot, research shows

By Leonie Haimson

The knives are out against the new class size law, overwhelmingly passed in the New York State Legislature in June 2022, requiring New York City schools to phase in smaller classes over five years, starting this school year. The law calls for class sizes in grades K-3 to be limited to no more than twenty students; 23 students in grades 4-8, and 25 in core high school classes, to be achieved by the end of the 2027 school year. The law was passed despite the opposition of the city’s Department of Education officials, who insist that it will be too expensive, and somehow inequitable, because, they say, the highest-need students already have small enough classes.

Most recently, Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and an adviser to Mayor Eric Adams, published identical opinion pieces in three major outlets: Bloomberg News (which he owns), The Washington Post, and the New York Post, inveighing against the goal of lowering class sizes. His piece is clearly meant to sway opinion leaders and legislators to repeal the law, and because of his prominent position, some may listen without knowing about fundamental problems in his op-ed.

Class size reduction has been shown as an effective way to improve learning and engagement for all students, especially those who are disadvantaged, and thus is a key driver of education equity. The Institute of Education Sciences cites lowering class size as one of only four education interventions proven to work through rigorous evidence; and multiple studies show that it narrows the achievement or opportunity gap between income and racial groups.

Bloomberg claims that because of the initiative, “City officials say they’ll have to hire 17,700 new teachers by 2028.” Actually, the estimate from the New York City Department of Education (DOE) itself is far smaller. In their draft class size reduction plan, posted on July 21, DOE officials estimated that 9,000 more teachers would be required over five years. While it’s true that the Independent Budget Office estimated the figure cited by Bloomberg, this large disparity between the two figures appears to stem from the fact that, as the IBO pointed out, the DOE’s budget already includes 7,500 unfilled teaching positions, which schools have not been allowed to fill. While Bloomberg claims the cost will be $1.9 billion for staffing, the DOE’s own plan estimates $1.3 billion — and these costs could be considerably lower if they redeployed teachers who are currently assigned to out-of-classroom positions to the classroom to lower class size.

The legislature passed the new law in recognition that the city’s DOE is now receiving $1.6 billion in additional state aid to finally settle the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit launched more than 20 years ago. In that case, the state’s highest court found that, because of excessive class sizes, the city’s children were deprived of their constitutional right to a sound, basic education.

Yet since his election, Adams has repeatedly cut education spending, and now threatens to cut it even more, by another 15 percent. As a result of these cuts, class sizes increased last year and will likely be larger this year. Hiring enough teachers to meet the law’s requirements will be a challenge in any case, but it will be impossible to achieve if the administration’s repeated cuts and hiring freezes are implemented. Yet in the end, smaller classes would likely strengthen teacher quality by lowering teacher attrition rates, especially at our highest-need schools, as studies have shown.

In his op-ed, Bloomberg claims that creating the additional space necessary to lower class size will cost $35 billion, which is misleading. DOE did include this estimate in its original May 2023 draft class size plan. However following pushback by critics who pointed out that this figure bore no relation to reality, they deleted that inflated estimate in their more recent July class size plan. If DOE equalized or redistributed enrollment across schools, this would likely save billions of dollars in capital expenses. Right now, there are hundreds of underutilized public schools, sitting close by overcrowded schools that lack the space to lower class size.

Bloomberg, echoing an erroneous DOE claim that funds spent on lowering class size will not help the highest-need students, wrote: “Under the new mandate, only 38 percent of the highest-poverty schools would see class sizes shrink, compared to nearly 70 percent of medium- to low-poverty schools … it won’t help the students who need it most.”

Actually, only 8 percent of schools with the highest poverty levels (with 90 percent or more low-income students) fully complied with the class size caps last year, according to an analysis by Class Size Matters. Thus, 92 percent of these schools would see their class sizes shrink if DOE complied with the law, rather than the 38 percent that Bloomberg claims.

Moreover, by solely focusing on schools with 90 percent poverty levels or more, his claims are misleading. A piece in the education publication Chalkbeat attempted to make a similar argument, by using class size data provided by DOE that shows that 68 percent of classes in the highest-poverty schools met the class size limit. This is far different than Bloomberg’s claim that 68 percent of these schools are achieving the limits in all of their classes.

In addition, the class size data, analyzed in conjunction with DOE demographic data, shows that there are many more NYC public schools in the other two categories summarized by Chalkbeat, “Low-to-Mid Poverty” (schools with 0-75 percent low-income students) and “High Poverty” (schools with 75 percent to 90 percent low-income students), than those in their “Highest Poverty” category. Most importantly, these two categories of schools enroll a supermajority of our highest-needs students.

In fact, 79 percent of low-income students, 78 percent of Black students, 74 percent of Hispanic students, and 74 percent of English-language learners are enrolled in these other two categories of schools, while only 21 percent to 26 percent of these students are enrolled in the “Highest Poverty” category.

This further indicates that without a citywide mandate to lower class size, smaller classes would likely never reach most of our most disadvantaged students.

Indeed, the highest-needs students, including students of color, low-income students, and English-language learners, have been shown to gain twice the benefits from smaller classes in terms of higher achievement rates, more engagement, and eventual success in school and beyond, which is why class size reduction is one of very few education reforms proven to narrow the achievement or opportunity gap. Thus, by its very nature, lowering class size is a key driver of education equity.

There is also no guarantee that the smaller classes in our highest poverty schools will be sustained without a legal mandate to do so. In July, DOE officials omitted the promise in their May class size plan that schools that had already achieved the caps would continue to do so, as pointed out by a letter signed by over 230 advocates, parents, and teachers. In fact, we found that fewer of the schools in every category achieved the class size caps last year compared to the year before.

Only 69 schools citywide fully met the caps in the fall of 2022, compared to 89 in the fall of 2021, and the number of students enrolled in those schools declined from 18,248 to only 13,905, a decrease of nearly 25 percent. Fewer still will likely do so this year.

So given that the data does not back up his claims, why is Bloomberg so apparently enraged at the notion that public school students would be provided the opportunity to benefit from smaller classes.

Bloomberg campaign flyer

One should recall that when he first ran for mayor more than 20 years ago, Bloomberg himself promised to lower class size, especially in the early grades. His 2002 campaign kit put it this way: “Studies confirm one of the greatest detriments to learning is an overcrowded classroom … For students a loud packed classroom means greater chance of falling behind. For teachers, class overcrowding means a tougher time teaching & giving students attention they need.”

Yet class sizes increased sharply during the Bloomberg years, and by 2013, his last year in office, class sizes in the early grades in public schools had risen to the highest levels in 15 years. By that time, he had long renounced his earlier pledge, and had proclaimed in a 2011 speech that he would fire half the teachers and double class sizes if he could, and this would be a “good deal for the students.”

Bloomberg’s main educational legacy in New York City was a huge increase in the number of charter schools as a result of his decision to provide them free space in public school buildings, and his successful effort to persuade state legislators to raise the charter cap. During his three terms in office, the number of charter schools in the city exploded from 19 to 183.

Since leaving office, Bloomberg has continued to express his preference for charter schools, and has pledged $750 million for their further expansion in the city and beyond. A close reading of his op-ed suggests that one of the main reasons for his vehement opposition to the new law is because lowering class size may take classroom space in our public schools that, in his view, should be used instead for charter schools.

Indeed, he concludes the op-ed by saying “it would help if Democratic leaders were more supportive of high-quality public charter schools,” and goes on to rail against a recent lawsuit to block the Adams administration’s decision to co-locate two Success charter schools in public school buildings in Brooklyn and Queens — a lawsuit filed on the basis that it would diminish the space available to lower class size for existing public school students.

Of the $750 million Bloomberg pledged for charter expansion, $100 million was specifically earmarked for Success Academy. Regarding the lawsuit, launched by the teachers union along with parents and educators in the affected schools, Bloomberg writes, “It was an outrageous attack on children, and thankfully, it failed.”

Misleading people about the value of small classes to teachers and students as well as about class size data seems to be an attack on opportunities for New York City public school children, who deserve better. Class Size Matters hopes these efforts fail.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Dangers of DOE plans to expand online learning and ed tech

Last night I gave a presentation on the ways in which DOE is failing to protect student privacy at a meeting of CEC 15; today I'm testifying on the dangers to both privacy and the quality of education of DOE's plans to expand the use of online learning.  Both presentations are below.  

We are looking for NYC parents and teachers who are concerned about these issues to join a new working group to investigate and advocate on this issue.  If you're interested, please let us know at info@studentprivacymatters.org  Thanks! 

Monday, September 18, 2023

Make your voice heard: how should the DOE be reducing class size?

Update:  You can also email your suggestions and comments to ClassSize@schools.nyc.gov by Wednesday, October 4th at 12 midnight.

The Class Size Working Group appointed by the Chancellor to help develop a plan to lower class size citywide in accordance with the new state law is holding public engagement sessions online and in person starting next week to present their preliminary proposals and get feedback:  

Tuesday, September 26th - 5- 7:30pm online (Manhattan/Brooklyn);  

Wednesday, September 27th - 5- 7:30pm online (Queens/Bronx/Staten Island) 

Monday, October 2ndCitywide from 5- 7:30pm in person at the MLK Campus Auditorium, 122 Amsterdam Ave,  Manhattan.

Registration links for each of these sessions are here: https://learndoe.org/class_size/  

Please register, attend, and let your voice be heard, especially as those few vocal parents who opposed the law and urged the Governor to repeal it are already doing outreach. 

More information about these hearings and a summary of the draft proposals are on the Infohub website here.

Full disclosure:  I am a member of the Working Group and Class Size Matters along with many other advocacy and parent groups advocated for the passage of the law.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Tell the Mayor what you think of his new threats of huge budget cuts to come

Sept. 12, 2023 

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Mayor Adams has now ordered every city agency to impose an immediate hiring freeze and submit budget cuts for next year totaling nearly 15%: 5% cuts by October 6, another round of 5% cuts by January, and yet another 5% by April. According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, these reductions would mean slashing the DOE budget by $2.1 billion.

As I noted to the NY Post, if implemented, these unprecedented cuts would create a doomsday scenario for our schools, leading to much larger classes, loss of after school programs, special education services, counselors, cuts to 3K and PreK, and more. And as I pointed out in the Daily News, cutting back special ed services and sharply increasing class size may also be illegal – especially in the context of the new class size law.

Though the Mayor is blaming these new cuts on the migrant crisis, he has repeatedly shrunk the DOE’s budget ever since he came to office; moreover, there are 7500 unfilled teaching positions that the DOE had budgeted for but that schools have not been allowed to fill. These further reductions would be disastrous to NYC public school students.

So I urge you to text the Mayor today at (917) 909-2288, to tell him that these cuts are unacceptable and that he must find a way to prevent them. He has encouraged New Yorkers to text him, so let him hear from you.

Some other options you might suggest to him are to find budget savings in other agencies or to increase revenue, including raising taxes on the super-wealthy, including those making over $5 million per year. If you like, you can copy me at the same time at (917) 435-9329.

These new, unprecedented budget cuts may be threats meant to gin up fear and outrage, to help persuade the federal government and the state to cover more of the expenses of the refugees, but they must be taken seriously and vehemently opposed in any case.

2. Speaking of class size, please fill out our class size survey if you haven’t already; it will only take five minutes. We are hearing of many schools where class sizes have risen dramatically this fall; but even if they have remained the same or decreased at your school, we want to hear from you!

Thanks so much, Leonie

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Please take our five- minute class size survey!

Welcome to a new school year, and the first year of the phase-in of smaller classes, according to the new state law. Unfortunately, we have already heard of schools where class sizes have increased substantially compared to last year. We anticipated this would occur, given cuts to Fair Student Funding and the fact that DOE eliminated the only promise in their initial class size plan: that those schools which had achieved the class size caps in the law last year would be given support to retain them this year.

Our letter to DOE, criticizing the lack of any real class size plan, and signed onto by more than two hundred NYC advocates, parents and educators, was reported in the Daily News, including the DOE’s omission of any pledge to ensure that class sizes would not increase this year.

Please fill out our brief five-minute survey for parents, teachers and other school staff, to report on the size of your school’s classes this year. All your info and your school will remain anonymous unless you indicate otherwise. 

Parents: if you don’t know how large your children’s classes are, ask them or their teachers. If you find out that they are excessively large, you can reach out to your principal and/or School Leadership Team to ask if anything can be done about it. If you don’t get a response, a petition signed by  you and other parents to urge the hiring of another teacher can be effective. If your child's class sizes violate the UFT contractual limits, set over fifty years ago, you can also reach out to your child’s teacher or chapter leader to ask whether they intend to file an expedited grievance.  

But please, do fill out our survey as soon as you can. This information is critical in our fight for smaller classes and to persuade the state to ensure that DOE makes progress on this issue.

Thanks for your support, Leonie

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Judge Frank's decision to reject the lawsuits to block the damaging co-locations of charter schools and re-locations of transfer schools

Sadly, on Friday, Judge Lyle Frank ruled against the lawsuit to stop two Success charter school co-locations and the relocation of two transfer schools.

 Here is the Daily News story on these decisions; here are previous blog posts about the lawsuits, which were based primarily on the fact that the Educational Impact Statements required by state law omitted critical information, such as whether the existing schools would have the space to lower class size  in the future to the levels mandated by state law.  

Moreover, the EIS's never mentioned the loss of other critical space and services that these students would suffer, such as the loss of their science lab by Waterside students, and the loss of the GED program and LYFE day care center by the  students who are young parents at West Side HS, not to mention in both cases the space to lower class size.

The Judge's decision was quite narrow -- simply that the plaintiffs should have gone to the Commissioner first with their complaints, even though this was a matter of statutory interpretation that could be seen as subject to the court's jurisdiction.  In fact, there was a precedent for this: in a previous decision by Judge Lobis in 2010, she had thrown out several DOE decisions to close schools on the basis of inadequate Educational Impact Statements -- including their failure to mention how students would lose their LYFE day care center: 

The EISs completely failed to provide information about specific programs existing at the schools proposed to be closed or phased out, or where the students would be able to find such programs. For example, where the school had a Living For The Young Family Through Education (L YFE) Center, no mention was made of that program, or where a similar program existed in other city schools.

Meanwhile, the powerful and wealthy networks that will benefit from his decisions, Success Academy and The Young Women's Leadership School, are the beneficiaries of millions of dollars contributed by billionaires, and could have easily afforded to lease their own buildings without any help from DOE and without depriving NYC public school students of these critical resources and space.  

TYWLS, founded by Ann Tisch of the billionaire Tisch family, recently received a $7 million grant from Mackenzie Scott.  Success Academy's wealth is well-known, having received $100 million from Bloomberg and many more millions from hedge funders and the federal government.

The students at Waterside are suffering a double whammy - not just losing their space but their principal as well, who has been offered another job by DOE.  The parents at Waterside hadn't even been informed of her departure when I told the PTA president about this on Friday. She confirmed the information in the article that only a small fraction of the middle school applicants had been accepted for the upcoming year.  As the former PTA president said to the reporter,  “I honestly feel like our district wants to get rid of Waterside Middle School but doesn’t want to directly tell us.” 

This suggests that DOE may plan to shrink the school  into nothingness so as to be able to give over the entire building to Success Academy.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Hearings today on charter co-locations and the eviction of West Side HS focused on class size

You can find the court filings in the lawsuit to block the Success co-location, Mulgrew vs. Bd of Ed, by searching this website for Index case #152847/2023. including my affidavit here. The filings in the lawsuit to block the West Side HS re-location and Brownsville/Aspiration co-location, Fernandez vs. Bd of Ed, can be found on the same website under Index case #155629/2023, including my affidavit and the affidavit of Jacqueline Shannon, Chair of the Brooklyn College Early Education Department, on the importance of the LYFE program.

UPDATE at 5 PM:  The Judge ruled that the Temporary Restraining Order would continue so that Success Academy is barred from renovating the spaces in Waterside and Sheepshead Bay until he rules on the application for preliminary injunctions in both lawsuits, which he intends to do as soon as possible. 

This morning at 10:30 AM, at the NY Supreme Court building at 80 Centre St., Judge Lyle Frank heard  arguments in the lawsuit to block the co-location of two Success Academy charter schools in the Waterside Leadership Academy building in Queens and the Sheepshead Bay high school complex in Brooklyn.  He also heard arguments in the lawsuit to block the re-location and co-location of three transfer schools, designed for under-credited and over-aged students: the forced eviction of the Edward A Reynolds West Side High School in Manhattan to a building across town to make way for The Young Women's Leadership Academy, and the co-location of Aspirations Diploma Plus High School with Brownsville Academy in Brooklyn.  (For more on these lawsuits, see here and here.)

The small courtroom was chock full of attorneys, plaintiffs, observers, a couple of reporters, and four very young Success Academy children wearing their bright orange uniforms, sitting and sometimes squirming in the first and second rows.  They were clearly put there to try to affect the outcome of the case. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to hear much of what was said because there were two air conditioners humming loudly, and the attorneys were speaking with their backs to us, facing the judge.  We will hopefully get a transcript soon but until then, please take this account of what transpired with some large grains of salt.

Judge Lyle Frank was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2018.  He is relatively young, and not afraid to make waves by ruling against the the City and the DOE in some prominent instances, when he believes that they have not been following the letter of the law.  Last summer, he ruled that the budget cuts to schools should be restored because they had been illegally imposed by the city.  Though later on appeal, the Appellate Court let the cuts stand, they agreed the DOE had acted illegally. More recently, he issued a preliminary injunction against the City's plan to change the healthcare of NYC retirees to a Medicare Advantage plan.

This morning, he jauntily walked into the courtroom, slipped on his robe, seemed pleased that the room was full of observers, and made a joke by asking if there were "any retirees" among them.  Then he launched right into closely questioning the four attorneys for the city, and the two lawyers who represented the parents and teachers who oppose these moves, Dina Kolker of Stroock and Laura Barbieri of Advocates for Justice.

The DOE immediately argued that these cases should be dismissed, based on their view that the issue should have gone to the Commissioner first instead of to Court, and if not, they should be granted another 45 days to research and argue the other claims made in the lawsuit.  

The Judge seemed surprised, but seemed to ignore that request, and immediately dove into the more substantive questions: namely, whether the Educational Impact Statements should have mentioned the potential impact of these proposals on class size, and more specifically, whether DOE should have analyzed how the loss of rooms at the existing schools might prevent them from lowering class size, especially considering the new class size law passed last spring by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor this fall.

The city's defense seemed to be primarily based on two narrow issues: that the state law that requires EIS's does not explicitly mention class size, and again, that any legal challenge should have been filed with the Commissioner first, as matters such as class size are so complex that they require education expertise.   

In response, Dina Kolker pointed out that the state law that mandates the creation of Education Impact Statements cites enrollment among many factors that should be examined, but also specifically says that the list is not exhaustive, and that the "statement shall include, but not be limited to" these factors.  Clearly, changes in class size have a serious educational impact on students and thus should be addressed in the EIS, especially given the new state law.  She also cited precedents in which the court had blocked changes in school utilization based upon legally deficient EISs, without the issue going to the Commissioner first, most notably, in the decision by Judge Lobis in 2010 to halt the closure of nineteen schools.  

Later in the hearings, the city attorneys suggested that since the EISs did mention changes in enrollment, that was practically the same as class size, (which of course isn't true).  They also proposed that since the DOE is currently in compliance with the new class size law (which actually doesn't kick in until next fall),  what happens to class size if these co-locations occur is not relevant  at this point.  

They added that DOE will comply with the class size law in the future, and the Judge replied, "but how, if they [the schools] need more classrooms and the charter school takes up all the space?"  At that point, the city reiterated that this is a complex question that only the Commissioner was qualified to decide.

In general, Judge Frank seemed to respond to the city's arguments with skepticism.  Yet the decision on whether to continue a temporary restraining order in the case of the Success Academy and/or order a preliminary injunction in both cases depends on three different assessments by the Court:  one, the likelihood of the lawsuit's eventual success when it is considered in full; two, whether the harm by letting renovations go forward is irreversible; and three, the balance of equities between the opposing parties.  

As to the latter two issues, the city argued that the Success charter schools are due to start school in mid-August so the renovations must start soon, that any renovations could be undone, and that "children are more important than buildings."  Dina Kolker countered that renovations are expensive to reverse, that the construction could disturb many of the activities, including summer school, currently taking place at the Sheepshead Bay complex, and that the fate of children are involved in both sets of schools, not just the charters.  

Then there were arguments from both sides on the secondary issue as to whether Advocates for Justice should have legal standing to be a petitioner in this case.  DOE said no, Laura maintained that they should, since they are a non-profit that is expending resources and time on advocating for student rights.  

She then argued that the fact that several of the PEP members had their cameras turned off during the vote on these transfer school moves was a clear violation of Open Meetings Law, since it is impossible to ensure that the right person was voting; the videotape for a large section of the PEP meeting is also missing.  The city responded that these were mere "technical violations" that shouldn't nullify the votes.

Laura went on to say that the EISs were also deficient since they included no discussion of where students at the transfer schools with special needs would receive their mandated services, and that depriving of them of these dedicated rooms is a violation of the city's Human Rights Law.  In addition, the EIS contained no analysis or discussion of the loss of the LYFE center and how that would affect the students at West Side High school who are young parents. 

See the affidavit  of Jacqueline Shannon, Early Childhood Department Chair at Brooklyn College. on how critical the LYFE Center is in keeping these students engaged and attending school.  The LYFE Center is a day care program which was established to care for the infants and toddlers of West Side students while they are in school, with abundant research and experience showing their value. What's fascinating is that Judge Lobis in her 2010 decision  in which she ruled  that 19 school closures were illegal because the EIS's were inadequate explicitly cited the fact that there was no discussion of how the loss of LYFE centers in these schools would impact students, just as in this case:

The EISs completely failed to provide information about specific programs existing at the schools proposed to be closed or phased out, or where the students would be able to find such programs. For example, where the school had a Living For The Young Family Through Education (LYFE) Center, no mention was made of that program, or where a similar program existed in other city schools.

The attorneys for the city responded that the West Side EIS contained such a discussion, which is false.  The EIS does mention that the LYFE Center may remain in its original site, more than a mile away from the new West Side school,  but never defines what the LYFE Center is or even attempts to describe the impact to the West Side students from having access to it in the same school building where they are enrolled,  as you can see for yourself.

The city's attorneys also claimed that EISs do not have to specify which rooms will be used to deliver special education services; but as Laura responded, they should at least analyze whether there will be enough rooms for that purpose, once these proposed co-locations and re-locations take place.

To sum up, the arguments on both sides were interesting and we should hear soon on the issues of the TRO and preliminary injunction, and hopefully, even on the broader questions of whether these moves should occur at all.  

One thing I predict, however, is that after today, future EISs will at least mention the issue of class size and at least superficially pretend to discuss the ability of affected schools to comply with the new class size law, no matter the outcome of these particular cases.