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When it comes to contractual mandates on class size, the New York City Department of Education seems determined to try to get around the rules.
A recent UFT survey showed about 7,000 oversize classes reported in city public schools as of Sept. 15, representing the worst violation of contractual class-size limits at that point in the school year in a decade.
This record high comes as no surprise after three straight years of school budget cuts and the loss of 6,665 classroom teachers since 2008. As a result of growing enrollment and the shrinking teacher force, some 256,000 students were shoehorned into bulging classes on the sixth day of school this year.
Indeed, class sizes have grown in every grade in each of the last three years. Making matters worse, the formative kindergarten through 3rd-grade classes had the greatest increases over the past two years.
All of this happened even though the state earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars through its Contract for Excellence specifically to lower class sizes. But budget cuts and principals’ decisions to use those funds in other ways have allowed class sizes to go in the opposite direction.
The only safeguard for students is the UFT contract, which sets clear class-size limits. The contract’s expedited grievance process for class-size violations at the beginning of each school year forces the DOE to comply with the law.
The union recently initiated demands for arbitration on 4,000 class-size grievances to bring oversize classes to levels mandated within the contract. The DOE brought the remaining 3,000 oversize classes on Day 6 within contractual limits by the 10th day of the school year.
Research has repeatedly shown that small class sizes, especially in the elementary grades, result in better performance. They allow teachers to offer more individual assistance, catching problems early and ensuring that all students are getting the lesson and mastering the concepts. Small classes continue to be the top priority of parents in New York City.
Yet the DOE pays only lip service to the importance of class-size limits while pursuing other priorities it deems more important.
It’s an outrage that class sizes continue to rise. Thankfully, we have a union contract so we can fight back — and protect our students’ education.