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Union blasts city on rising class sizes
by Micah Landau | October 18, 2012 New York Teacher issue
Roughly 225,000 — or nearly a quarter of the New York City school system’s students — spent part or all of their first days in school in overcrowded classes, according to a UFT survey released on Sept. 25.
Dino Sferazza, the chapter leader at Queens’ Cardozo HS, which had 266 oversize classes, the most of any school in the city, described the situation at his school as “absurd.” One teacher had 58 students in a class, Sferazza said; another had five classes, none of which had fewer than 43 students.
“Kids are standing in the hallway, sitting on the floor, sitting on windowsills,” Sferazza said. “There’s not enough anxiety in these kids’ lives already? And now they have to worry about getting a seat in class?”
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 to remedy class-size problems. The union filed grievances for the 469 schools that still had class sizes over contractual limits on Sept. 21.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew blasted the DOE over skyrocketing class sizes at a press conference outside Manhattan’s Museum School on Sept. 25. Nearly half the city’s schools have classes that exceeded the contractual limits on class size and the number of oversize special education classes has more than doubled since last year, the union found.
“The number of kids in a class has a direct effect on student achievement. Shouldn’t it be a priority of the administration to make them smaller?” Mulgrew asked. “The class sizes of New York City have risen every year across the board since the mayor took over. In fact, last year the mayor said he would like to double the class sizes in New York City. What he doesn’t understand is that this harms children.”
Class-size limits under the union contract
- 18 in pre-kindergarten
- 25 in kindergarten
- 32 in Grades 1 - 5
- 30 in Title I junior high and middle schools.
- 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
According to the UFT survey, there were 670 schools — a record number — with oversize general education classes on Day 10, up from 660 last year, while the number of overcrowded special education classes in these schools had grown from 118 to 270.
Leonie Haimson, the executive director of the advocacy group Class Size Matters, attributed the dramatic rise in class sizes to teacher attrition and budget cuts to education, among other factors.
“We now have the largest class sizes in 13 years in the early grades,” Haimson said.
Amanda Fletcher, a Spanish teacher at the Museum School, said that the increase in her school’s class sizes will prevent teachers from doing their best work and students from receiving the education they deserve.
“We have the ability to be wonderful teachers at 34 students [in a class], but the quality of what we can give them is less than the quality we could provide last year with lower class sizes,” Fletcher said. “It breaks my heart that there are students who aren’t getting the education they should be because of class sizes.”
Marquis Harrison, the chapter leader at the Frederick Douglass Academy in Manhattan, said that his school has begun the school year with oversize classes every year since he became chapter leader four years ago.
“Our classes physically are not meant to have more than 32 students in them,” Harrison said. “We don’t even have enough seats for all the students. Some of them are forced to stand around the room.”
However, Harrison said that after he grieved the 30 oversize classes at his school, they were quickly brought back into compliance by the DOE.
“We have to use the grievance process because as teachers we are advocates for our students and we always do what it takes for our students,” Harrison said. “We grieve it for our students.”
The contract and grievance process are “tools to ensure that our students get what they rightfully deserve,” Harrison said.
District 31, which encompasses all of Staten Island, had the most grievances filed with 39, while the Queens High Schools District was next with 35 grievances filed.
The 10 city high schools with the greatest number of oversize classes are indicated on the map on this page. Middle and elementary schools with the most oversize classes included Frederick Douglass Academy (MS 499) in Manhattan; PS/MS 194 in the Bronx; IS 318 in Brooklyn; MS 210 in Queens; MS 226, also in Queens; and PS/MS 861 on Staten Island.