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by Linda Ocasio | October 1, 2014 New York Teacher issue
The UFT filed grievances on Sept. 18 and 19 on 3,569 classes citywide jam-packed with more students than allowed under the union contract. Although there were 228 fewer oversize classes this year than at the same time last year, the classes were dispersed over more schools than in the past.
Under the expedited grievance procedure for class size in the union contract, the Department of Education had 10 days from the first day of school — until Sept. 17 — to bring oversize classes reported by the union under contractual limits.
UFT Michael Mulgrew said that he was hopeful that the new administration would move more quickly to deal with the remaining oversize classes than the Bloomberg administration did, which dismissed class size as unimportant.
The most egregious examples of overcrowding this year are at three high schools in Queens that have perennially topped the list — Hillcrest, Forest Hills and Cardozo.
A growing problem
One-third of New York City’s elementary schools packed in more students than they were built for in the 2013–14 school year, according to the Mayor’s Management Report released on Sept. 17, while early-grades class sizes continued to increase for a sixth straight year.
Middle schools do not suffer as much from overcrowding, but 31 percent of high schools exceeded their designed capacity in the latest year, the report found.
Kindergarten through 5th-grade class sizes have grown steadily over the past six years. The average class size for grade 1 was 25.1 students last school year, up from 24.4 the previous year and 21.1 six years ago, according to the Department of Education’s Final Class Size Report, which supplies class size numbers in the management report.
The same trend is evident in grade 2: The average was 21.1 six years ago, 24.7 in 2012–13 and 25.3 last year. Those classes should be no more than 20, according to a 2007 state court ruling in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.
Class sizes in grades 4 and 5 have also risen steadily, though at a slower pace. Fourth-grade classes had 23.5 students on average six years ago, 25.5 in 2012–13 and 25.9 last year. Fifth-grade classes had 24.1, 25.9 and 26.0 for the same years.
Middle school class sizes have experienced a roughly one-student-per-class increase over the past six years. The report does not include class sizes in charter schools, which enrolled 71,905 children during the last school year.
The Mayor’s Management Report, an annual review of all city agencies, also showed a 25,200-student increase in special education enrollment from the 2012–13 to 2013–14 school years but a drop of 6,000 English language learners over the same time frame, with more students testing out of ELL programs.
“The students are sitting on desktops and tables,” said Marilyn Beckford, the Hillcrest HS chapter leader. Despite a contract limit of 34 students in high school academic classes, she estimates the average class size in her 3,400-student school is 36, although one social studies class has 45 students — down from 53 a week earlier.
“In a school of this size, it’s a nightmare,” she said. “I have complaints coming in all the time.”
At Forest Hills HS, Chapter Leader Adam Bergstein said the hallways are “unbelievably crowded.” More than 3,900 students are enrolled, which puts the school at 192 percent of capacity, he said.
“It’s pretty intense,” Bergstein said. With so many students in flux, he said, teachers sometimes delay delving into complicated coursework to accommodate new students who enter the class later.
“Many are honors classes, so you have exceptional, bright kids who are delayed from jumping into content,” he said.
At Cardozo HS, Chapter Leader Dino Sferrazza said students are sitting on top of desks in some cases, or in rooms where they brought in more desks, they are packed in tight. “There are all kinds of confusion, because kids are switching in and out of classes, and there are new rosters every day,” he said.
Sferrazza said it has been this way every year since he became the chapter leader 10 years ago. “The city anticipates that we’ll be under-registered, although we have oversize classes and not enough teachers,” he said. “Unfortunately, it becomes the norm and lowers expectations.”
There was no reason, he argued, that the city couldn’t deal with the situation sooner. “We’ll be almost done [with] the marking period before many students will know what class they’ll be in,” he said.
By the numbers
Class-size limits under the union contract
- 18 in prekindergarten
- 25 in kindergarten
- 32 in Grades 1– 6 in elementary schools
- 30 in Title I junior high and middle schools; 33 in other JHSs and MSs.
- 34 in academic classes in high school
- 50 in physical education classes in middle and high schools
- 50 in required music classes in high schools
Number of oversize high school classes by borough*
- Bronx: 186
- Brooklyn: 102
- Brooklyn and Staten Island HS District (BASIS): 317
- Manhattan: 227
- Queens: 1,032
Number of oversize high school classes by borough*
- Bronx: 381
- Brooklyn: 383
- Manhattan: 166
- Queens: 604
- Staten Island: 170
* Numbers as of Sept. 17 (the 10th day of school)
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