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NYC class sizes increase for sixth year in a row despite law requiring reduction

Leone Hamison | 11/21/2013, 3:29 p.m.
On Friday, Nov. 15, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) released new data on class sizes in schools ...
classroom desk

On Friday, Nov. 15, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) released new data on class sizes in schools as of Oct. 31.

summary of citywide results:

  • In 2013, New York City class sizes increased citywide for the sixth year in row.
  • In grades kindergarten through three, class sizes are larger than in any year since 1998.
  • In grades kindergarten through three, the average class size is now 24.9 (including general education, inclusion and gifted classes), as compared to 20.9 in 2007, an increase of 19 percent since 2006.
  • In grades four through eight, class sizes are the largest since 2002.
  • In grades four through eight, the average class size is now 26.8, compared to 25.1 n 2007—an increase of 7 percent.
  • In high school “core” academic classes, DOE figures indicate that class sizes average 26.7 students per class, compared to 26.1 in 2007. Yet the DOE’s way of measuring high school class sizes is inaccurate and its methodology changes nearly every year, so these estimates cannot be relied upon.
  • Class sizes in grades kindergarten through eight have risen as the number of general education, collaborative team teaching and gifted classes in these grades have dropped sharply, by about 2,500 classes since 2007.
  • The number of teachers decreased by about 4,000 between 2007-2010 despite rising enrollment, according to the Mayor’s Management Report.

Borough Averages

  • Class sizes vary widely by borough and district.
  • In kindergarten through third grade, class size averages are largest in Queens (25.8), followed by Staten Island (25.6).
  • In grades four through eight, class size averages are largest in Staten Island (29.2), followed by Queens (27.9).

Political and legal context

  • Class sizes have risen despite promises by Mayor Michael Bloomberg when he first ran for office that he would reduce class size in kindergarten through third grade in all schools to 20 or less.
  • Class sizes have risen despite the judgment of the state’s highest court in 2003 that class sizes were too large to provide New York City children with their constitutional right to an adequate education.
  • Class sizes have risen despite the Contracts for Excellence (C4E) law passed in 2007 that required the city to reduce class size in all grades.
  • Class size reduction is the top priority of parents every year, according to the DOE’s Learning Environment Survey, and 86 percent of New York City principals say they are unable to provide a quality education because classes are too large.
  • Class sizes have risen primarily because of repeated budget cuts to schools, the elimination of targeted funding for smaller classes in kindergarten through third grade, a decision by the DOE not to cap classes to 28 in grades one through three, rising enrollment, colocation policies and other damaging decisions made by this administration.
  • The state “preapproved” a New York City class size plan for 2013-2014 before public comment or hearings were held, contrary to the C4E law, and allowed the DOE to merely limit class size increases in a small set of 75 schools.
  • Limiting class size increases in 75 schools out of about 1,500 public schools is not a class size reduction plan as the C4E law requires.
  • Meanwhile, the DOE employs the highest percent of nonpedagogues to pedagogue positions since 1993, according to Office of Management Budget data.  

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, said, “It is a sad legacy that Mayor Bloomberg leaves office with the city’s children crammed into the largest class sizes since 1998 despite his promise to reduce class size when he first ran for office.

Class sizes across the city are unlikely to decrease significantly unless the next mayor and chancellor devote more resources toward hiring more teachers and invest in a more ambitious school construction plan, rather than spending funds on bureaucrats, testing and other wasteful programs.

“Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has promised to achieve smaller classes over the next four years, and it is up to parents and advocates to see that he follows through on that goal.”

Charts and more information about the causes and impacts of these class size increases are posted on the Class Size Matters website, at classsizematters.org.

This year’s DOE class size summary and data by school, district and borough is posted online at schools.nyc.gov.