class size

unintended benefit

Counting Class Size

New York

UFT: City's special education reforms causing class size crunch

UFT President Michael Mulgrew, flanked by NYC Museum School teachers and Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, discussed this year's tally of oversized classes during a press conference this morning. One in four city schools have overcrowded classes, and the number of oversized special education classes more than doubled since last year, according to this year's class size tally by the United Federation of Teachers. Union members reported 270 special education classes with more than the mandated number of students in the early weeks of the year, up from 118 last year. During a press conference outside a Chelsea school building, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the city's special education reforms, which are meant to move more students with disabilities into general education classes, were "clearly and solidly behind" the too-large special education classes. "We've never seen numbers like this before," Mulgrew said about the oversized special education classes. "Principals are telling us they are being mandated to do things they cannot do, and this is going to be a big problem." The union's contract with the city sets class size limits in each grade. When classes exceed the limit, the union can file grievances against the city to get the classes reduced in size — a process that can take months, Mulgrew said. This year, the union identified 6,220 classes over their contractual limits in 670 schools during the first weeks of the year. While the number of oversized classes was actually down 11 percent from last year's recent high of 6,978, the number of schools with oversized classes grew slightly, and the union estimates that nearly a quarter of all city students are spending all or part of the day in overcrowded classes for the second straight year.
New York

Class size jump poses new challenge for a successful school

Chancellor Dennis Walcott and P.S. 130 Principal Lily Woo look on as one kindergarten teacher and her student read from a class assignment. Even at an elementary school with high scores, experienced teachers, and years of A's on the city's progress reports, budget cuts are taking a toll. At Chinatown's P.S. 130, average class size has ballooned from between 25 and 28 students per classroom last year to 32, the maximum allowed. Because the school lost about $1 million from its budget in the last two years, it had to cut teaching positions and reading teachers, according to longtime Principal Lily Woo. As Chancellor Dennis Walcott looked on today, second-grade teacher Danielle Cannistraci gathered her 31 students on the rug around the front of the classroom in a circle two rows deep for a lesson about shapes. When she asked the students to name a three-dimensional shape with no round edges, half a dozen hands shot in the air with the answer (in this case, a pyramid). Cannistraci, who has worked at P.S. 130 for 11 years, said the lesson exemplified her efforts to make her teaching more engaging. But with 31 students this year, up from 27, she said she is struggling to give each student individual attention and manage the time students spend doing group work. "I've always put them in groups, but now I have a whole extra group — it's become much harder," she said. "Normally I have five groups for reading, writing, and math. But if I have six guided-reading groups I can't focus on one in each day anymore because that means one group isn't going to be seen at all."
New York

UFT: Budget cuts lead to more oversized classes this year

John Elfrank-Dana, UFT chapter leader at Murry Bergtraum High School, says his history classes have as many as 37 students. After three years of budget cuts, the city's schools started the year with more oversize classes than at any time in the last decade, according to data collected by the United Federation of Teachers. Union members reported that on the sixth day of the school year, nearly 7,000 classes had more students than the teachers contract allows, mostly in high schools and a large number in Queens. That was almost a thousand more oversize classes than they reported at the same time last year. The union will soon file a grievance against the contract violations, and many of the classes will shrink as schools shuffle students around in the coming weeks, as typically happens at the beginning of the school year. But union officials said it appears that for the fifth year in a row, average class sizes have inched up again. "Our worst fears have now been confirmed," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew at a press conference announcing the numbers today. He urged Mayor Bloomberg to protect the city schools from additional budget cuts in the coming year. Now, nearly a quarter of all city students are spending all or part of the day in overcrowded classes, according to the UFT. The contract limits classes to 25 students in kindergarten; 32 students in elementary school; 33 students in middle schools and 30 students in middle schools with many poor students; and 34 students in high schools.
New York

In annual appeal, union urges vigilance against large classes

The United Federation of Teachers is gearing up for its annual struggle to wrangle classes down to their contractual size limits. As schools work to pinch every cent out of their compressed budgets, there are few safeguards in place to ward off swelling class sizes, and the UFT is asking members to be especially vigilant this year. In the Sept. 1 Chapter Leader Weekly Update, the union urged its school representatives to monitor class size closely from the first day of classes so that after an "informal resolution" period ends on Sept. 21, the union can begin filing grievances. One element of the UFT's bid to challenge the city's class-size efforts is in legal limbo. In 2010, the union sued the city over its spending of class size reduction funds, charging that the Department of Education had used the funds for other purposes. But this summer, an appeals court threw out the suit, ruling that the issue should be handled by the State Education Department. Dick Riley, a UFT spokesman, said the union was still weighing how to proceed. But he said that putting pressure on the DOE early has traditionally paid off for the union, with schools rectifying many class size violations as the chaos of the first days of class wears away. “In practice the DOE, particularly in high schools, often exceeds these limits at the beginning of the school year, but under pressure from the UFT, generally brings them down to the contractual limit, though it can take weeks for some schools to do so,” Riley said.
New York

Court dismisses union's effort to force city to lower class sizes

The city teachers union will have to go to the State Education Department to protest rising class sizes in New York City, rather than skip straight to the courts, after an appeals court today dismissed a 2010 suit by the union. The suit aimed at forcing New York City to dedicate a certain pot of state funds toward making class sizes smaller. The union charged that the city misused the funds, sending them to offset budget cuts rather than using them as they were intended — as a means of reducing class sizes. The NAACP also signed onto the suit. But in a decision handed down today, an appeals court unanimously dismissed the union's suit, saying that the union must take its complaints to the State Education Department before going to court. (Read the full decision below.) The union president, Michael Mulgrew, vowed to continue protesting rising class sizes. "Lowering class size is a key issue for the parents and teachers of New York City and we intend to pursue it vigorously," Mulgrew said in a statement this afternoon. The appeals court did not address the heart of the disagreement: whether the city actually did, as the union charges, improperly fail to lower class sizes — and use Contracts for Excellence funds instead to stave off budget cuts. At issue is the state Contracts for Excellence funding stream, and in particular, a specific clause forcing New York City to write a plan to reduce class sizes. What's not disputed is that class sizes have creeped up for the last two years even as funds aimed at bringing them down have flooded into schools. Class sizes for the coming school year aren't yet available, but all signs point to likely increases, which principals are preparing for. It's not clear, however, that the Department of Education deliberately sought to prevent schools from lowering class sizes by sending funds elsewhere.
New York

Elected officials target early childhood programs for rescue

Hundreds of parents, children, and day care workers protested proposed cuts to early childhood programs today at City Hall. (GothamSchools' Flickr) With the deadline for next year's city budget looming, elected officials are eyeing early-childhood centers slated to be cut under Mayor Bloomberg's proposed budget as a key reduction to reverse. More than a dozen officials, including two mayoral candidates and three out of five borough presidents, decried the possible cuts today at a City Hall rally alongside hundreds of parents and workers associated with the centers. The proposal would cut the budgets of early-childhood programs and replace kindergarten programs currently operated outside of the school system with Department of Education kindergarten classes. The city says that moving the kindergartens is necessary in order to save the Administration for Children's Services $15 million. But parents today said that the current programs cover the burden of child-care in a way that schools, which end at 3 p.m. and are shuttered on holidays, cannot. The programs at risk of being shut are operated out of ACS, the city's social services arm for children, as part of larger daycare operations. Head Start, the early childhood program, is also slated to see its budget slashed by 3 percent. Desiree Jean-Mary said she is upset that her son, Joshua, who attends a Head Start program in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, might not be able to continue there next year when he enters kindergarten. Right now, Jean-Mary, who has two other children, picks Joshua up at 5 p.m. after her job as a home health aide is over for the day. “It would be really hard if I had to find somewhere else for him to go — I don’t want that,” she said.
New York

Why the class-size-reduction money failed to reduce class sizes

The chart plots a dot for every school that received state money to create new classrooms. The dot represents the amount of money the school received, and the amount that the school's average class size changed. (Data via the Department of Education) We've already reported that average class sizes citywide did not decline last year, despite an infusion of money meant to reduce them. New data suggest the same relationship happens at the school level: Even schools that reported spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on class-size reduction efforts, such as creating new classrooms, did not necessarily see a drop in average class sizes. Rather, while some schools that reported investing in new classrooms did end up reducing class sizes on average, others actually saw their average class size go up. The data, provided by the Department of Education following a tug-of-war that you might recall, are summarized in the graph above and in a searchable file available here. The major challenge, according to the schools official who compiled the data, Tania Shinkawa, is not that principals didn't spend the money as they were supposed to, but that even that pot of money didn't guarantee that they could lower class sizes across the board. Take Bronx elementary school PS 57, which reported that it spent $190,000 to open new classes. Let's be generous and say that the money could pay for three additional teachers. That could go a long way toward reducing class sizes in three grade levels. But would it necessarily lower the entire school's average class size? No.
New York

Live-blogging the City Council capital plan hearing, sort of

I spent the afternoon at the City Council's hearing on the School Construction Authority's proposed capital plan, and I tried to post updates as they happened. Unfortunately, the wireless at City Hall wasn't cooperating, so here are some highlights of the hearing, just a few hours after it ended. 1:20 p.m. Education Committee chair Robert Jackson led off right away with the elephant in the room: the economy. He said the city is facing "very difficult economic times" and noted that the mayor has requested that all city agencies reduce their capital requests by 20 percent. Economic conditions didn't stop Jackson from saying that the council wants to "take [the SCA] to task for unresolved problems and exaggerated claims." In particular, he pointed to the authority's claim that the current capital plan is the largest in the city's history, noting that many more seats were created in the early years of the 20th century. Jackson also noted the Campaign for a Better Capital Plan's finding that more school seats were added in the last six years of the Giuliani administration than in the first six year's of Bloomberg's. 1:30 p.m. Kathleen Grimm, the DOE's deputy chancellor for administration, drew some laughter when she read from her prepared testimony about the DOE's recent "capital accomplishments" the departments's oft-repeated claim that the current capital plan, which runs through the end of June 2009, is the largest in its history. She said in the future she'll be specifying that it's the largest plan in SCA's history, not the DOE's. The state created SCA in 1988. 1:45 p.m. SCA head Sharon Greenberger walked council members through a Power Point presentation about the proposed capital plan. She noted that the SCA did incorporate a plan for class size reduction into its calculations — but the reduction was to 28 students in grades 4-8 and 30 in high school, not 23 as the state Contracts for Excellence requires for those grades.
New York

TEP Charter model sparks debate among educators

Posts about The Equity Project (TEP) Charter School — that's the one where teachers will make $125,000 — brought out strong feelings from educators and advocates both at the New York Times Lesson Plans blog and here at GothamSchools. In our comments, Leonie Haimson, a leading advocate for smaller classes in the city's public schools, points out that TEP will save money partly by putting 30 students in a class (the TEP website does say this, although not in the section aimed at educators). She points to comments at the Times where teachers question the priorities of the TEP model. Alex, for example, suggests cutting the salary to $75,000 and drastically reducing class size with the extra funds. GothamSchools commenter Maria Escalan worries that dividing up administrative responsibilities among teachers will end up overburdening them: Our principal who kept experimenting with different reforms on our already successful school had the brillant idea of letting teachers assume lots more responsibility outside of the normal teaching activities. The consequence was that a lot of my colleagues expended a lot of time and energy on activities that were not instructional and the quality of their teaching suffered. I think it's worth noting that the TEP plan is to give each teacher a single clearly-defined "whole school service" role, ranging from dean of discipline to events coordinator to parent and community involvement coordinator. It's not just asking people to step up as needed, which, in my experience, usually results in a few teachers taking on way too much. And, contrary to the belief of at least one Times commenter, custodial duties are not among the listed whole school service jobs. In exchange for the higher salaries, TEP expects teachers to work a longer day,