Recent data show that class sizes in New York City public schools are now the largest in fifteen years, exceeding the levels established in the 2003 Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) ruling. In CFE, the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, ruled that reasonable class size, especially in early grades, correlates to improved student achievement and is, therefore, an essential element of a constitutional “sound basic education.” The Court also found that class sizes in New York City were extremely high, a contributing factor in low student performance.
The Court of Appeals noted that, in 1998, over half of New York City students in kindergarten through third grade were in class sizes of 26 or more and “tens of thousands are in classes of over 30.” As the court noted, “the number of children in these straits is large enough to represent a systemic failure.”
The Court ordered New York State to provide additional state aid to City schools to reduce class size so children do not attend classes so large as to impair their ability to learn.
Over ten years after the CFE ruling, class size has grown to the levels found impermissible by the Court of Appeals. According to data from the New York City Department of Education and the Independent Budget Office, half of children in grades K-3 are in classes of 26 or larger, and once again tens of thousands of children in these grades are in classes over 30. Over 70% of middle school students are in classes larger than 26. Class sizes have been increasing across the city for six consecutive years, climbing 19% since 2006. Average class size is as large as it was when the CFE case went to trial.
“Class sizes in the early grades are now the largest in 15 years,” said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, a non-profit advocacy organization. “In a recent survey, 86% of New York City principals say they are unable to provide a quality education because classes are too large. Parents are also demanding smaller classes. There is no need more critical for NYC children to receive an equitable chance to learn.”
“The persistent increase in class size is a direct result of the State’s failure to fund New York City schools at the levels required by the 2007 statewide foundation formula,” said Wendy Lecker, Senior Attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Project at Education Law Center. “These class size data, combined with other reports showing a lack of AP classes, science labs, art and music rooms, and remedial help for at-risk students, are a wake-up call that City schools do not have resources essential for a constitutional education. Providing all New York City students the necessary tools of learning must be a priority for the State and incoming mayoral administration.”
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