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Class Size Counts

Immediately before the holiday break, the New York City Department of Education published for the first time class size data for all NYC public schools. The data is far from complete: on the high school level, for example, it includes only classes in the four major subject areas [Social Studies, English Language Arts, Mathematics and Science]. There are also indications that it is not entirely accurate; some schools, it appears, took inclusion team teaching classes and reported them as two separate classes, one of general education students and one of special education students — even though they were instructed explicitly that they should not do that.

Yet even within these limitations, the data tells some very interesting stories.

We separated out from the list all reports of grades 9-12. This allows us to capture not only the traditional high schools, but also the high school grades of secondary schools [which go from grade 6 to grade 12]. We took only the general education class sizes, since special education class sizes are governed by the students’ Individual Educational Plans [IEPs]. We then sorted the high schools, listing them from the school with the highest student registers to the lowest, so the schools went from the largest to the smallest.*

What becomes stunningly clear is that in New York City public high schools and secondary schools, the larger the school, the larger the class size. In the first quartile of the largest schools, the average class size in the core academic areas is 27.42. In the second quartile, it is 25 and in the third quartile, it is 23.95. In the bottom quartile of the smallest schools, it is 21.8 — nearly six students less [over 20%] than in the largest schools.

To those who have followed the New York City educational scene closely, this is not surprising. In October, the New York City’s Independent Budget Office released a report which found that the disparities in classroom spending among New York City public schools were not due to differences in teacher salaries, as Tweed had been trumpeting, but differences in class size. Small schools were better funded, and had smaller class sizes.

Chancellor Klein and the New York City Department of Education are never reluctant to praise the successes of new small high schools and secondary schools. But nowhere in their narratives do they provide a full, intellectually honest account of the vital differences between the new small schools and the large high schools they replaced. In the past, we have pointed out the crucial differences in the student populations served by the schools. Now, we have powerful evidence that these differences extend to the resources the Department of Education provides to the schools, with the small schools having considerably smaller classes.

When the issue of class size is raised for high schools and secondary schools, Chancellor Klein and the DOE are fond of claiming that lower class size at this level has a minimal effect. But their actions speak louder than their words. When it comes to supplying their prized small high and secondary schools with resources, lower class size leads the list.

It is time to end the DOE’s policy of ‘have’ students and schools and ‘have not’ students and schools. If a class size of 21 is appropriate for small schools and their students, it is every bit as fitting for large schools and their students.

End the class warfare: reduce the class size for all high school and secondary school students.


* The student registers provided in the NYC DOE data are not the actual number of students in the school, but the total number of the students registered in the four academic area subjects. This means that the same student is counted a number of times, as many as four times in the lower high school grades when students are taking all four subjects. But since the duplicate counting works the same for all high schools, the register is still an accurate indicator of the size of the school.

Thanks to Danny Tirado and Maise McAdoo for crunching the numbers.



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  • 4 cindy r
    · Dec 3, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    The newly created small school reforms by the Bloomberg administration were created to reduce the sizes of large failing schools, to provide both an innovative learning environment and to better the safety conditions for all students. However, once the plan took into effect and large public high schools became greatly effected by the situation, which included the taking up of essential space, the lack of funding and the competition evolved from being in different school creating hostility amongst faculty members and students, the whole idea of a safe and innovative environment where all students will be given the attention they deserve according to the child First reform, only became an image left in writing for us to read. Although, I believe that some of the positive ideas taken by the earlier small school were intentionally great. It was not thought out as well as it should have been and was not given the slow start to test whether it will work in one school before opening a hundred more right after. It has also failed to include all students in all of the schools, as the blog mentions. This defies the purpose of the reform because they were not considerate in the effect of placing the Ells and special needs student in large schools as it has been as oppose to also allowing them to benefit from the smaller class settings. Furthermore, the students of these large schools are forced to accept the limited resources and lack of attention from the still largely populated building transformed into other small school with the same problems.

    Although, the media’s coverage of small schools claims that they have had great success with attendance rates and apparently graduation rate, recent information provided by a few articles and blogs such as the one above proves otherwise. In fact, it has been discovered that the reason why these school produced such great results was because they did not have a large scale of students to begin with and they were not required to mandate the regent’s diploma. In addition, they are discriminating against Ell’s and special education students, who deserve the same quality education as the rest of the student population. Nevertheless, the DOE favors those particular schools and only provides those schools with more funding because of there earlier improvement scores on their annual report as oppose to providing those schools struggling to improve with more resources. In adiiiton, the class size has not increased in those schools. As a matter of fact, they have increased drastically.This has become a major problem for many large New York City schools that do not have enough funding to maintain extracurricular activities, services, and to pay their teachers. Therefore, instead of fixing the problems of larger schools, the problems enlarge. Eventually, this misdistribution of funds and resources also becomes a problem once the small school success becomes short-lived after they are also oblige with the mandated requirement in which all New York City schools must follow, such as state exams and more inclusion of Ell’s and special education students, which they had avoided in the start up years. Thus, this creates various other dilemmas with the school system. It becomes evident that there is no effective longevity of the small school within these already overcrowded and failing schools and ultimately it will impact student success. Therefore, in order to create an effective reform an end to the opening of more small schools and closer observation at the core of the problems of all schools should be taken into concentration.

    A school must be a place where all students can learn and feel they can succeed with the support of their teachers. It should not be a place of disorganizations, a place that lacks the ability to maintain its teachers and administrators, a place where there is constant competition as oppose to unity. In addition, all students should have the opportunity to attend a small school and its purpose is to try to educate low-level student, which it has been found that it has not done so or has failed to provide equal distribution of fund amongst all schools. What I find troublesome is that their was once a clear initiatives about small schools, when they first opened in the early 1990’s, what I do not understand is the recent change of it through the Children First reform, when it had worked well in the past and also the rapid changes amongst the large schools, when what it strongly needs is solid and more gradual changes within its structure should take places as oppose to a rapid change of dividing the schools. It is unclear how the reform will benefit the existing failing schools without diagnosing the major problems of it first. Instead, the large school problems are divided in to smaller problems within the same buildings because of the Small school reform. Therefore, the problems will continue and instead of being one large problem in one school it will be the same problems in many schools.