Yesterday, new class size data was reported for NYC public schools, showing significant increases at all grade spans except for high school compared to last year. Charts, showing these increases, could be accessed here. Citywide, the number of students in classes of thirty or more increased at all grade spans including high school, totaling more than 232,000 students; and the number of students in 1st through 3rd grades in classes that large more than doubled compared to last year.
Parent leaders, advocates, teachers, and many elected officials expressed deep concern that these increases in class sizes will hamper the ability of students to receive the full support that they need, especially given the disruptions caused by the pandemic. They also raised questions about whether the Department of Education is planning to take the steps necessary to comply with the new state law, passed last spring by the Legislature and signed by the Governor in September, that will require reducing class size starting next fall, to no more than 20 students per class in grades K-3, 23 students per class in grades 4-8, and 25 grades in high school, to be phased in over the next five years.
Said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, “There is no evidence that the DOE is taking this law seriously and has even begun to look at whether there is a need to make changes in budgeting, the capital plan and enrollment necessary to comply with the law.”
Many parent leaders and a growing number of elected officials have signed a letter, urging the DOE to create a Task Force that would include stakeholder voices and that would help develop a plan to ensure that the annual class size benchmarks and ultimate goals in the law will be met in the most equitable, effective and affordable way possible.
Shirley Aubin and Randi Garay, co-chairs of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council, said: “The fact that class sizes increased this year at every grade level except for high school is disappointing, if not surprising. Last week, we asked the DOE’s Chief Enrollment Officer Sarah Kleinhandler at a CPAC meeting what changes were being considered to more fairly allocate enrollment across schools to meet the class size goals in the law. In many overcrowded schools, it will be difficult if not impossible to lower class size to required levels, while other schools sitting close by are often very underutilized. It was clear from her response that she had not yet heard anything from Central regarding this issue.”
State Senator Robert Jackson said, “Our state reached a major milestone for our children’s education when it passed the class size bill into law this year. It is concerning to see that the city has yet to take steps to provide a blueprint that would allow NYC to implement the new class size reduction in our schools on time as stipulated in the law. Stakeholders and conversations need to be underway right away to avoid kicking down the road come next September. I join parents, advocates, students, community members, and colleagues in calling for the Department of Education to establish a task force that includes their voices so that smaller classes can be achieved effectively and equitably. NYC children have waited long enough; it is time to take action to make smaller class sizes a reality.”
“The reduced class size bill is now law in New York State and the first set of annual benchmarks must be achieved next year. I am alarmed that the NYC DOE does not seem to be doing the necessary planning now in order to fulfill next year’s goals. As a former teacher of deaf students, I know first-hand just how critical smaller class sizes are to students’ ability to succeed. We must get this done not only to comply with state law, but to fulfill our promise to the students of New York,” said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, sponsor of the original class size reduction bill in the Assembly.
“The class size reduction law that the state enacted last year offers an opportunity for New York City to deliver more equitable, more effective education to our children,” said Council Member Shekar Krishnan (25th District). “The Department of Education must prepare now to take advantage of this opportunity. Working with parents, teachers, principals, and other community members, the Department must create a plan to provide space, staffing, and funding so that our children receive the quality education they deserve.”
“I have been fighting alongside my Council colleagues, parents, and education activists for a class size reduction law because of the tremendous benefits to students’ academic outcomes and socio-emotional wellbeing. However, we will not see these gains if we do not engage in thoughtful planning to ensure the law is implemented equitably,” said Council Member Shahana Hanif. “While I am glad to see schools that have not seen a growth in enrollment being held harmless, we know there are schools still experiencing the impact of larger class sizes without the funds to address the increase in students. I am proud to join the call for DOE to establish a task force to fairly and successfully implement this critical law to ensure student and teacher success.”
“The data is clear: smaller class sizes lead to higher academic achievement, a narrowing of the opportunity gap in education between lower-income and higher-income students, and long-term positive impacts on wages. While I was thrilled when education advocates and our State Legislature won a long-hard fight to reduce class sizes in New York City, I remain concerned that the Department of Education has not taken meaningful steps to meet the requirements of the law and that school budget cuts will make adherence impossible. I am proud to join colleagues and community members in calling on the Mayor and Chancellor to commit every resource necessary to reduce class sizes and deliver a fair and equitable education system for all our students,” said Council Member Tiffany Cabán, District 22.
Council Member Sandy Nurse observed: “The class size reduction law was passed by New York State for a reason–to ensure that all NYC public school students have access to viable learning environments. Yet, we haven’t seen any planning or indication from the Department of Education that they are preparing for implementation. In fact, we have only seen this administration cut public school funding. DOE must take the class size reduction law seriously and immediately develop a plan to achieve compliance.”
“Schools in my district have been chronically unenrolled for over a decade, which limits the resources that schools are able to provide to their students. These disparities in enrollment across our schools require a thoughtful, holistic, and equitable approach, and a task force focused on the practical application of the law will ensure that principals, parents, and students are not left feeling any undue burden,” said Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez.
“We are very concerned that New York City class size trends are moving in the wrong direction, which will impede compliance with the new class size law,” said Wendy Lecker, senior attorney at Education Law Center. “We renew our request to the Chancellor to establish a class size task force made up of parents, advocates, students, community members and elected officials as soon as possible in order to ensure that New York City has a plan in place for implementation of this crucial law.”
Teachers and parents agreed that the increase in class size undermined conditions in their schools this year. “There are so many needs, There are so many needs, so many kids still struggling academically and emotionally, and there is so much work placed on the shoulders of teachers. It is a difficult and exhausting job, made more difficult by larger class sizes,” said Martina Meijer, a fourth grade Dual Language teacher whose class size grew this year from 20 to 26 students as a result of budget cuts.
Christianna Nelson, a Brooklyn parent said, “My third grade daughter is in a class of twenty five at a wonderful public school. Last year she was in a class of twenty and made huge leaps in learning and growth and actually graduated from some of her services. I know that smaller class sizes helped facilitate these profound, positive changes in her life. She has had spectacular teachers every single year, but even the best teachers can do better with smaller class sizes. We are short-changing a whole generation of kids, who have already had their education interrupted by the stresses of a pandemic. NOW is the time to support our children and their teachers, by giving them the smaller classes they need. When are we going to stop asking miracles of our teachers and start actually supporting them, with meaningful policy and funding?”
Bronx high school ELA teacher Alexandra Haridopolos has 34 students in her classes, which is the UFT contractual maximum. She pointed out, “Having classes over 25 students dramatically dehumanizes the learning process for students. It is nearly impossible for me to spend quality time with each student everyday with class sizes that big, and that is what every student deserves.”
Kathryn Malara is a teacher at PS 194 in Brooklyn, which lost 2nd and 4th grade teachers this year, causing class sizes to swell from about 18 students to 31 students in those grades. She said, “There is no way to make adequate progress when there are so many students in a class. Their needs are so deep and so varied that it is nearly impossible for a teacher to do their job. I so desperately wish that things were different and that we did not have to have these painful conversations. Public education is at the edge of a cliff and most teachers are either already falling or holding on to the cliff by their fingertips.”
CPAC co-chairs Shirley Aubin and Randi Garay concluded: “Last month, CPAC passed a resolution calling for DOE to create a Task Force that includes parents, advocates, students and elected officials, to help develop a class size plan to guarantee that there will be sufficient space, funding, and staffing to achieve the goals within the timeframe specified by the law. The fact that class sizes in most grades increased this year only further strengthens our conviction that this Task Force should be created and get to work as soon as possible.”