New York City’s public schools had 5,485 overcrowded classes this year, compared to 6,447 last year, a drop of 962 from 2014 and the first time the number of oversize classes fell below 6,000 at the start of school since 2009.
The improvement means that some 33,000 fewer students than last year started school in classes above the maximum set by the UFT contract. But despite the improvement, some 2,026 elementary and junior high classrooms and 3,459 high school classes — representing more than 180,000 students — are overcrowded using the UFT contract standard.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said, "I want to thank Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Farina for starting to tackle of the class size issue, and thousands of students today are in classes smaller than they would have been thanks to the administration’s efforts. But much more remains to be done."
"In 2007 the Legislature, as part of the state's Contract for Excellence, promised that it would both fund and enforce a class-size reduction program in New York City that would at least bring our K-8 class sizes down to the statewide average. Eight years later, parents and teachers across the city know that the time has come to provide the same kind of support for our children that parents in the rest of the state take for granted. We are owed more than $2 billion from the CFE settlement, and the state needs to finally fulfill its promises."
Queens high schools saw the greatest improvement, with 1,924 classes over the contractual limit this year vs. 2,329 last year. Francis Lewis High School in Queens saw the most improvement in the city with 135 oversized classes this year compared to 254 last year.
Unfortunately, Queens high schools still topped the list of schools with the most overcrowding: Forest Hills with 264 overcrowded classes; Benjamin Cardozo with 261 oversized classes; Hillcrest with 250 overcrowded classes and Long Island City with 140 oversized classes.
Among elementary and middle schools, Queens also reported the highest number of oversize classes — 734; Brooklyn had 566; the Bronx 314; Manhattan 227; and Staten Island 185. The totals are based on school registers on Friday, Sept. 18.
Class size limits according to the UFT contract:
- Pre-Kindergarten: 18 students with a teacher and a paraprofessional;
- Kindergarten: 25 students;
- Grades 1-6 (in elementary schools): 32 students;
- JHS/MS: 33 students in non-Title I schools; 30 in Title I schools;
- High school: 34 students; 50 in physical education/gym.
The maximums set by the UFT contract are the only legally enforceable mechanism for lowering class size in New York City. The UFT filed a grievance to bring the class sizes below the maximums.
Further lowering of class sizes — to the state average
According to the New York State Department of Education, average class sizes in the state outside of New York City in 2013-14 were:
- Pre-Kindergarten: 17.7 students
- Kindergarten: 20 students
- Grades 1-6: 21.5 students
- Middle Schools: 19.9-21.6 (varies by academic subject)
- High school: 18.6-22.3 (varies by academic subject)
Affluent public school districts like Great Neck, on Long Island, are well below the state average, providing class sizes in first and third grades of about 16, while New York City’s most expensive private schools boast of class sizes of 15 or even smaller.
Parents and experts agree on importance of class size
Parents routinely identify smaller classes as a critical issue for the schools and their children. In surveys since 2009 sponsored by the New York City Department of Education, parents have routinely listed smaller classes as their highest priority.
In a 2014 report, the National Education Policy Center described class size as "an important determinant of student outcomes, and one that can be directly determined by policy," adding that the "payoff from class-size reduction is greater for low-income and minority children."