This celebration of vigilantism from the film “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” comes unavoidably to mind in thinking about this whole business of increasing class sizes. In the film, Mexican bandits posing as “federales” surprise a group of American gold prospectors. One of the Americans (Humphrey Bogart) demands to see their badges. “Badges?” replies Mexican actor Alfonso Bedoya, with a fabulous sneer. “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.”
Class sizes rose in almost every grade this year, despite an infusion of almost $150 million from State Ed specifically to lower class sizes. Was there an explanation? Really not. Enrollment went down this year as it has for the last seven years. Teacher counts stayed steady. And as for space, the DOE bought ads all over the subways this month boasting that it added 66,000 seats. Still, average K-8 class sizes rose in every grade but 4th (where it went down by one-tenth of a student) and 6th, where it stayed flat.
OK, averages may not tell the whole story. Let’s zero in on a group of schools. These are schools that appear on DOE and State Ed lists as receiving targeted funding, in some cases more than $1 million a school, specifically to lower class sizes. We excluded any school that got funding only to add teachers to existing classrooms. All we looked at were 336 schools that pledged to add classes.
Here are the results: of the 336 schools, 165 reduced class sizes, seven kept class sizes the same, and 164 increased class sizes. In other words, these schools were just as likely to make no change or increase class sizes as decrease them, some by several students, with the class size reduction funding.
It defies logic, but the numbers don’t lie. DOE’s “principal empowerment” budget strategy amounts to this: DOE will take the taxpayers’ hard-earned money but it rejects any accountability for how it spends it. It does what it pleases and if you question their authority they sneer.