New York City children are crammed into classrooms in record numbers and this may sabotage everything the administration is trying to do to improve public education, 73 professors of education, psychology, and child development stated in a Monday open letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
“New York City schools have the largest classes in the state and among the largest in the nation,” the letter states. “We believe that the benefits of many of the other positive reforms that the city is pursuing, such as increasing access to universal prekindergarten, establishing community schools, and inclusion for students with disabilities, may be undermined unless the trend of growing class sizes is reversed and class sizes are lowered in the city’s public schools.”
Last school year, class sizes were the largest in 15 years in elementary grades and the largest since 2002 in grades four to eight, states the letter citing Education Department data.
Every third school was over capacity in 2012, according to the city comptroller’s July report. One in eight crossed the line by more than 25 percent.
“As you know, robust research shows that class size matters for all students, but particularly students at-risk of low achievement, including children of color, those in poverty, English language learners, and students with special needs,” the letter states. “Smaller classes have also been shown to increase student engagement, lower disciplinary referral and dropout rates, and reduce teacher attrition.”
“No teacher, no matter how skilled or well prepared, can be as effective in the large classes that exist in many of our city’s public schools,” the letter argues.
De Blasio plans to invest $4 billion toward some 33,000 new school seats by 2019. But that’s not even enough to cover about 40,000 more seats the city will need by 2018, according to enrollment projections the city received five years ago.
In a few weeks the Space Sharing Working Group of parents, educators, and education department officials established by the mayor should present its findings and recommendations.
It is not clear how much focus will be on overcrowding, since the primary goal of the group was to address problems around the practice of multiple schools sharing one building.