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A Story of Broken Promises

[Editor's note: Versions of this piece appeared in community newspapers throughout the five boroughs. This is the Manhattan version.]

Tens of thousands of children across the city are crammed into overcrowded classrooms. Yet the city has received from the state more than three-quarters of a billion dollars in the past three years to lower class size. Despite this influx of funds — and the city’s promise in writing to use it to lower class size — class sizes have actually increased in New York City.

That is why the United Federation of Teachers, the NAACP, the Hispanic Federation and a coalition of other groups and individuals sued the city Department of Education earlier this month. Our lawsuit charges that despite a decline in overall student enrollment and the injection of more than $760 million in state funds from school years 2007-08 through 2009-10, class sizes have gone up by the largest amount in 11 years.

This $760 million was part of the state’s solution to an earlier case called the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which challenged how state education funding had shortchanged urban districts, including New York City. The new funds, under the guidelines known as Contracts for Excellence, came with the proviso that the city deliberately target funds to smaller classes.

New York City took that money, and then ignored its promise, permitting principals to spend the money on other things, including replacing funds lost to city budget cuts, a clear violation of the agreement with the state.

The effects of that refusal can be seen in classrooms throughout the city. Just consider what is happening in 8th-grade classes. In the Bronx, 39 percent of such classes have 30 or more students. In Brooklyn the figure is 41 percent; Manhattan has 49 percent; Queens has 57 percent; and Staten Island has a whopping 70 percent of its 8th grade classes with more than 30 students.

But the problem is more than a question of statistics — the effects are felt in individual schools and classrooms. For instance, PS 28 in upper Manhattan, despite the fact that it got more than $217,000 in class size reduction funds for the current school year, reduced by three the number of classes it offered and had two fewer classroom teachers. The result was that class sizes went up in almost all grades.

Anyone who has ever spent even a day in an urban classroom can clearly understand that it’s easier for teachers to provide individual attention and focused instruction to students in smaller classes. That is why lowering class size is such an important priority for parents.

But the DOE chooses to continue to ignore the long-standing wishes of parents and abdicate its duty to use the state class size reduction funds as intended. That’s mismanagement, plain and simple.

For years DOE officials have called for holding teachers and other educators more accountable for what happens in our schools. Where’s the accountability for the children in overcrowded classes?

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1 Comment:

  • 1 Phyllis C. Murray
    · Jan 17, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    To: President Michael Mulgrew
    A lesson in History: “The dream of a new and just American society must not die.”Martin Luther King

    The historic march on Washington, D.C. took place on August 28, 1963. At that time Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. had the support of labor unions, religious groups, and “all people
    gallantly engaged in the struggle for freedom and dignity.” On March 14, 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., became the first African American to receive the John Dewey
    Award of the United Federation of Teachers.

    Albert Shanker, the President of the United Federation of Teachers, presented this award to Dr. King for his outstanding contribution to the education of all Americans. The Award Citation recognized King’s belief that all students should have an equal opportunity to achieve success. It acknowledged King’s further understanding of the important role educators play in our
    society.

    During King’s acceptance speech, he stressed the need for the passage of the Civil Rights Bill in the United States Senate. Dr. King felt this bill would help rid America of every vestige of segregation. He also stated that segregation was “a new form of slavery,” “a caste system.”
    King viewed segregation as socially and morally wrong and sinful.
    “Segregation is not only sociologically untenable, segregation is politically and economically unsound,” said King. “Segregation is wrong, to use the words of the great Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, because it substitutes and “I-it” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship.
    Segregation is wrong because it is nothing but a new form of slavery covered up with certain niceties of complexity.”

    Dr. King urged all persons of good will to join the thousands of Americans who were “gallantly engaged in the struggle for freedom and human dignity.” He wanted to make the American dream a reality for all citizens. Nonviolent
    direct action would be the means to that end.

    The Civil Rights Bill was passed in 1964. Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968.

    “The sudden and violent death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., places a serious and profound obligation on all Americans, black and white — and obligation to continue and broaden the now still efforts of Dr. King to build a society where racial justice and peace prevail,” said
    Albert Shanker.”That dream of a new and just American Society is shared by million upon millions of Americans —
    and that dream will not die. We have been proud to walk with Dr. King in Mississippi and in Washington and to work with him in establishing freedom schools in the South. In this tragic hour, we rededicate ourselves for his cause,”
    said Albert Shanker President, UFT, upon learning of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King,Jr.

    Today, The Sixties (1960-1969) is remembered as the turbulent decade in which five civil rights leaders were assassinated: John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Martin L. King. The Sixties is also
    remembered as the decade in which three courageous young civil rights workers, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and
    James Chaney were murdered in Mississippi by the Klu Klux Klan: Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were shot to death at point blank range and James Chaney was brutally
    beaten and shot three times in the face. All three bodies were buried in a dam until they were recovered by the FBI.

    As we move through the 21st Century, the dream of a new and just American society must not die because “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The dream of a
    new and just American society must not die because it is a dream based on the American dream of liberty and justice for all. The dream of a new and just American Society will
    not die because “The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
    This I believe.

    Phyllis C. Murray, Educator/Author
    The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Instructional Package United Federation of Teachers