A new report by Education Law Center finds that New York City is failing to reduce class size in the City’s public schools. The Report, “Reducing Class Size in New York City: Promise vs. Practice,” documents the lack of progress in meeting the City’s commitment to lower class sizes and provides recommendations for making class size reduction a priority again.
Smaller class size is among the most effective tools for improving education outcomes, especially for at-risk children. New York’s highest court recognized the importance of reasonable class size in its landmark 2003 school funding decision, Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State (CFE). The Court of Appeals in CFE found that tens of thousands of City school children were consigned to excessively large classes, and that class size affects student learning. The CFE Court also ruled that reasonable class size is one resource among those that are “essential” to afford students a sound basic education under the NY State Consitution.
In response to the CFE rulings, the Legislature in 2007 enacted the Contract for Excellence (C4E) law, along with a new Foundation Aid Formula for school funding. The C4E law mandated that New York City develop and implement a class size reduction plan for all grade levels. The City developed a plan in 2007 that committed to a reduction in average class sizes, over five years, to:
- 19.9 for Kindergarten through Grade 3;
- 22.9 for Grades 4 through 8;
- 24.5 for Grades 9 through 12 (in core classes).
ELC’s report analyzed Department of Education (DOE) data to evaluate the City’s performance in implementing the C4E class size reduction plan. The report finds that the City continues to lose ground in bringing class sizes down to reasonable levels. Although the City set specific five-year class size targets in its 2007 C4E plan, by the fall of 2015, class sizes had grown far above the City’s original targets in nearly every grade and substantially above the levels that existed in 2007. Specifically, the report finds that:
- Average class sizes in all grade spans have increased every year since 2008-09;
- In 2015, only 14% of early elementary students in Manhattan, 6% in Brooklyn, 3% in the Bronx, 2% in Staten Island, and 1% in Queens were in schools with average class sizes that met the C4E class size plan goals;
- In 2015, the number of grade K-3 children in classes of at least thirty had nearly doubled since 2011;
- Citywide, in 2015, only 12% of grade 4-8 students were in schools with class sizes that met the C4E goals. Twenty-two percent of Manhattan students were in schools with appropriate average class sizes compared to 16% in the Bronx, 14% in Brooklyn, 4% in Queens and 4% in Staten Island;
- In 2015, more than half of all students enrolled in City high school English, Math, Science and Social Studies courses were in classes with 30 students or more.
“This report succinctly analyzes the increase in class sizes in our public schools and points out how both the City and State have ignored their legal obligation to provide school children with an essential resource for a constitutional sound basic education,” said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters. “Parents and advocates wholeheartedly agree with the report’s conclusion that the ‘time is overdue’ to lower class size for all students, but most urgently for low-income children and students of color.”
The report details the degree to which the City has fallen short of fulfilling its class size reduction plan mandated by the C4E law. It also offers concrete steps both the City and State must take to put the plan to lower excessive class sizes back on track. These include having the City issue a new five-year class size plan and stricter oversight by the State Education Department.
“Reducing class size is a vital component of a constitutionally ‘sound basic education,’” said Billy Easton, Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education. “The State has the ultimate constitutional responsibility to ensure that every child in New York City receives this essential resource. New York State must make reasonable class sizes for New York City public school children a reality.”
“This report is a wake-up call for City and State officials to focus on reducing class size in New York City public schools,” said Wendy Lecker, Senior Attorney for ELC. “Too many New York City school children are learning in conditions that our highest court deemed in violation of their constitutional rights, sixteen years after the Court of Appeals issued its CFE ruling. Concrete action to ensure all school children have this essential eduation resource is long overdue.”
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