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Fewer oversized classes, but push for state funds continues

New York Teacher

City schools began the school year with the fewest oversized classes in more than seven years, UFT President Michael Mulgrew announced on Oct. 19.

“We are moving in the right direction but still have a long way to go,” he said, flanked by city and state lawmakers at a press conference outside Department of Education headquarters.

Noting that average class sizes were still much larger in New York City than in the rest of the state, Mulgrew called on the state to step up.

“It is time for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity funds,” Mulgrew said, referring to more than $2 billion that the state must, under a 2006 court order, release to the city after it was determined the state systematically underfunded city schools. “We were patient during the economic crisis, but now it is time.”

For the first time in his six-year presidency, Mulgrew said, the number of oversized classes in city schools has dipped below 6,000. New York City public schools had 5,485 oversized classrooms on the sixth day of classes this year, compared with 6,447 the previous school year and a high of 6,978 in 2010, during the height of the Bloomberg administration’s school closings.

He said the drop means that some 33,000 fewer students started school this year in classes over the maximum set by the UFT contract, the only legally enforceable mechanism for reducing class size. But some 180,000 students still began the year in classrooms with class sizes greater than the UFT contract permits.

Under the contract, principals have 10 school days to bring class sizes within contractual limits. In cases in which administrators do not address the problem in that period, the UFT goes to arbitration on each class, a process that can stretch out for months.

Mulgrew attributed the progress to a state budget that delivered the biggest increase in school aid in years and to Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who made sure the money was spent as it was intended.

Queens high schools had the greatest improvement, with 1,924 classes over the contractual limit this year versus 2,329 last year. The number of oversized classes at Francis Lewis HS in Queens plummeted from 254 last year on the sixth day of classes to 135 this year.

Yet three Queens high schools were still the most overcrowded in the city: Forest Hills HS with 264 oversized classes; Benjamin Cardozo, with 261; and Hillcrest, with 250.

Research shows that student outcomes are improved when children are taught in smaller classes. In a 2014 report, the National Education Policy Center described class size as “an important determinant” of student outcomes.

“There is nothing that parents care about more,” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of the advocacy group Class Size Matters.

Fewer oversized classes, but push for state funds continues

Queens Assemblyman Jeff Aubrey recalled a recent visit he made to a 4th-grade class in Sag Harbor with 20 students, a teacher and a paraprofessional. “Twenty children engaged, answering questions and involved in the learning of government,” he said.

City Councilman Mark Levine, a former teacher, said he is tired of hearing that money and class size don’t matter, especially from critics in wealthier school districts outside the city where money is flush and class sizes are small.

“All we’re asking is that New York City school children get what they deserve,” Levine said.

Manhattan Assemblyman Keith Wright, whose mother was a public school teacher, urged the release of the CFE funds, saying an investment in children is an investment in the city’s future.

“There’s no secret to improving schools,” Wright said. “We have great teachers and now all we need is smaller class sizes.”