Demand Department of Education Reduce Class Size as Mandated in State Law
Today, nine parents from every New York City borough filed a petition with State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia, charging the City Department of Education (DOE) with failing to reduce class sizes as mandated by the Contract for Excellence Law (C4E). The City’s Public Advocate, Letitia James, and two advocacy groups, Class Size Matters and the Alliance for Quality Education, also joined the parents in the petition.
Education Law Center (ELC) is representing the Petitioners.
Please see Parent Petitioners’ quotes below.
In 2007, as required by the C4E law, the DOE developed a class size reduction plan for the City’s public schools, pledging to lower average class sizes in Kindergarten through third grade over five years to no more than 20 students; in fourth through eighth grade to no more than 23 students; and to no more than 25 students per class in high school core classes. The State Education Commissioner approved the plan.
The DOE never delivered on its plan. Instead, class sizes have increased sharply since 2007, particularly in the early grades, and are now substantially larger than when the C4E law was enacted. As of fall 2016, DOE data show classes in Kindergarten through third grade were more than 18 percent larger, classes in grades four through eight were six percent larger, and high school classes were 1.5 percent larger than in 2007.
“The growth in class size from 2007 to the present is breathtaking,” said David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center (ELC), which is representing the Petitioners. “For example, in 2007, a little over 1,100 students in grades one through three were in classes of 30 students or more. As of November 2016, a staggering 43,219 first through third graders were in classes this large, an increase of almost 4000 percent.”
“New York City students have waited too long for a better opportunity to learn, and it is unacceptable that the City has reneged on its legal obligations,” said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters. “The research is crystal clear that smaller classes benefit all children, but especially those who predominate in our public schools: students who are low-income, have special needs, or are English Language Learners.”
“A decade ago, the City committed to reducing class sizes to appropriate levels, a resource identified by New York’s highest court in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case as essential for a constitutional sound basic education,” said Billy Easton, Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education. “But now class sizes are even larger than when the court issued its decision. It is past time for the DOE to live up to this legal obligation.”
“The research is clear: smaller classes are better for our children. This indisputable fact can no longer be ignored. I am proud to stand with a diverse coalition of education advocates to demand the city provide our students with the smaller class sizes they are owed. There can be no equity or excellence when students in The Bronx and throughout New York City must sit in classes this large,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
The Petitioners are requesting that Commissioner Elia order the DOE to immediately begin reducing class sizes to the averages set forth in the 2007 class-size reduction plan and to reach those averages in no more than five years. Petitioners are also asking the Commissioner to order the City to promptly align its capital plan for school construction to the class size averages in the 2007 Plan, another requirement of the C4E regulations.
Parent Petitioners Speak:
“My daughter has been in extremely large classes since Kindergarten,” said Naila Rosario, a parent in District 15 in Brooklyn. “This year, in fourth grade, she is in a class of 32 students. She cannot possibly receive the kind of personal attention and feedback every child deserves and needs to be successful in school. In fact, often her teacher does not even have enough time to answer all the students’ questions. There is no way my daughter or any of her classmates can get a quality education in a class this large.”
Deborah Alexander has two children at P.S. 150 in Queens, one in 1st grade and the other in 4thgrade. Both are in classes of 30 students: “My fourth grader told me he doesn’t bother to raise his hand anymore, because as he said to me, there are too many kids, so I’m never picked. My daughter’s class is full of restless children, waiting their turn to be able to speak. Some of the children have social-emotional issues and clearly feel deprived, no matter how hard their teacher tries. It is time to aggressively address class size reduction once and for all so that all children know they are seen and heard.”
“My son, who has an IEP, has been held back twice and is at risk of being held back again,” said Rubnelia Agostini, who has a second grade child at P.S. 277 in the Bronx. “His class size is now 25, and he was in a class of 27 in Kindergarten at P.S. 205. After two months in Kindergarten he was bused to another school to address class size violations, since Kindergarten classes are supposed to be capped at 25. Now his independent evaluation says he needs a small class, but his school doesn’t have any small classes, and some are as large as 27. Why can’t my son receive the quality education he needs to succeed?”
Litza Stark’s son is in an inclusion, or ICT, Kindergarten class with 28 students at P.S. 85 in Queens. The ICT class contains 10-12 students with special needs: “Especially since this is an ICT class where students present an array of extra challenges, his class size causes excessive stress on the teachers and the students alike. PreK is important, but so is the quality of education for children in Kindergarten and up.”
“My son’s class has 24 children, many of them requiring close support, and his teacher is not able to individualize instruction as she could in a smaller class,” said Reeshemah Brightley, the mother of a Kindergarten child at P.S./I.S. 76 in Manhattan. “Classroom management is difficult, and students are more disruptive in a large class than they otherwise would be, making it hard for the rest of the class to focus. “
JoAnn Schneider’s son is a fourth grader in an ICT class of 31 students at P.S./I.S. 113 in Queens: “My son receives special education services and has been in an inclusion class since Kindergarten. He’s making only minimal progress because he needs a more focused environment that only a small class can provide. It is not right that my child should be denied the kind of education given to children elsewhere in the state where classes average only 20-22 students per class – especially when the law requires it.”
Johanna Garcia, a mother of two children at P.S./I.S. 187 in Manhattan, explained: “My son is in third grade in a class of 28. He receives special services, but his class is far too big and he has trouble keeping up. When he was in Kindergarten, his class size exceeded the cap, and that’s when it became clear to me that it was impossible for him to receive the attention he needed with so many other children in the class. My daughter is in a class of 29 students in fifth grade, and many in her class have been unable to stay engaged and afloat. The city owes it to my children and all other students in the public school system to remedy this egregious violation of their rights.”
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