Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend is an odd time for the Dept. of Education to publish the new class size numbers.
But a quick look at them suggests why: class sizes rose virtually across the board, for the second year in a row. This occurred despite $150 million in targeted state funding to reduce class sizes in New York City in each of these two years.
DOE obviously knew since September that class sizes were up. They told the Daily News Sunday that the just couldn’t help it because of budget cuts. That may be true, but then why stay mum and then publish your report over a holiday?
A UFT survey in October found that 70 percent of high schools and 63 percent of elementary and middle schools had larger classes this year. It was no surprise. But DOE has sort of slinked around on this issue, saying principals are in charge of their individual school budgets so Central is not accountable for how this state class size funding is spent. This doesn’t sound like the kind of accountability Central imposes on everyone else.
Needless to say, the city’s rising class sizes have not sat well with the State Education Dept., which insists DOE comply with strict guidelines for spending this so-called “Contracts for Excellence” funding, won in the hard-fought Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. Let’s see how state ed will respond to this latest report.
Everyone understands budget cuts, but managing how they fall is what education administration is supposed to be about. To wit: There is a wealth of research on the benefits of small classes. It is the single best-documented education reform for young children. But DOE let class sizes rise to 22.1 students on average in K-3 classes, up from 21.4 last year and 20.9 the year before. Almost 20 percent of all K-3 classes this year are larger than 25 students.
Throwing up your hands over budget cuts is not an adequate response. Class sizes would go down, or at least not go up, if administrators spent the funds as specified. The DOE really doesn’t pay much attention to class sizes, even when they are spending someone else’s money. An audit from the City Comptroller’s office in September found that DOE had failed to monitor $180 million of specific state funding for early grades class size reduction, using $48 million of it, more than 25 percent, to supplant, rather than enhance, city tax levy money at 245 schools.
Things are just as bad in the older grades. Average class sizes in grades 6-8 rose from 26 in 2007-08 t 26.3 in 2008-09 to 26.6 this year. In the high schools, average class sizes top out at 26.8, a steady increase for three years.
You know what parents’ top concern is about their public schools? Yes, large class sizes. They are much smaller in charter schools. In private schools they are half the size. But then, these schools that DOE manages are just public schools.