When, in 2018, I left Louisiana and started teaching in New York, my average class size dropped by five students. A world of possibilities has opened up. Suddenly I could adjust seating arrangements, hold discussions, differentiate, and give feedback in a way that having to engage and educate classes of over 30 students had preempted. Assuming the quality of teachers remains consistent, students benefit academically and socio-emotionally from smaller class sizes. And I took advantage of scoring 25 fewer tries over the weekend.
If, however, reduced class sizes meant that my students had to forego reading intervention, summer enrichment, mental health services and more, I would have noted the extra tests.
This is the trade-off that New York State’s class size caps impose on New York City. In incremental steps over the 2023-28 school years, New York City must limit classes so that they ultimately are no more than 20 students in kindergarten through third grade, 23 students in grades 4 through 8 and 25 high school students. To comply with the mandate, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) will need to hire more than 10,000 teachers at a cost of $1 billion, not including the cost of building more classroom space. class.
These funds will undoubtedly allow for more feedback and differentiation for some students. However, Albany forgot to pay the bill. There is no extra money tied to this mammoth undertaking.
State Senator John Liu, chairman of the New York City Education Committee, insists the city pays for the term with funds from the continuation of the Tax Fairness Campaign in which a coalition of parents successfully argued that New York’s school funding system violated state law. Constitution. After 20 years of legal battles, Governor Hochul has pledged to fully allocate these funds, known as Foundation Aid, to provide resources parents have spent years fighting for: quality teachers, tutoring, social workers, interventions for students at risk and, of course, reasonable class size.
Of $531 million in current Foundation assistance, the DOE is spending 33% on reducing class sizes while 67% provides programs for English language learners, a full day of pre-K, after school care, etc. In fact, maintaining Equitable Student Funding, the city’s formula designed to direct extra dollars to schools serving at-risk students, requires the DOE to dip into Foundation Aid.
In other words, the new mandate, as currently written, will divert money from these essential programs to pay thousands of new teachers.
The benefits of these new teachers, unfortunately, are not evenly distributed.
K-8 schools that will benefit from more teachers and smaller class sizes are enrolling disproportionately fewer black and Latino students. Given the recent decline in enrollment, average class sizes have declined across the city, with K-8 students averaging 23.7 students. Classes that exceed size limits are now concentrated in highly sought-after, high-performing schools that serve large numbers of white and Asian students. Black and Latino students make up 65% of the student body at DOE schools overall, but they make up only 55% of students who will benefit from smaller class sizes.
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As we grapple with record levels of racial disparity in educational outcomes after the pandemic — and a learning slide we need to reverse, especially among the disadvantaged — this is simply unacceptable.
Members of community school districts who will experience smaller class sizes are also concerned about the mandate’s impact. Community Education Council 26, which serves schools in Liu’s own district, called for amendments that would ensure programs funded through Foundation Aid are kept harmless and for greater community input on schools that come under the mandate. . In addition to a worrying reallocation of resources, the board is rightly concerned that the mandate will reduce the capacity of popular schools by 30 to 40 percent, dramatically reducing the number of students and families served by these high-performing schools.
Echoing the council’s concerns, Mark Cannizzaro, the outgoing president of the principals’ union, likened the process of transferring funds fairly, allocating teachers and finding space in the classroom to doing the physically impossible. .
“Yes, I’ll do the plan, but I still won’t be able to run the mile in four minutes,” Cannizzaro said.
In six years of teaching, I have taught classes to 34 students and classes to 14 students. I’ve seen students thrive in smaller environments, feeling more confident engaging with content and sharing their thoughts. I have also seen students crumble when they have been denied the reading intervention, mental health, and English learning services they need.
Liu goes on to emphasize that this is not a zero-sum game: essential services dependent on Foundation aid and reduced class sizes can coincide. That is ultimately for the New York State Legislature to decide. They should change the far too rigid law on class size caps so that programs for at-risk students remain fully funded.
Johnson taught high school humanities in the Bronx and New Orleans and is now studying education policy at NYU Wagner as a Bloomberg Public Service Fellow.