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.