Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein, together, have made sweeping changes within the New York City schools. Yet, many are questioning their intentions and spending of funds.
Creating smaller class sizes, especially in the elementary grades, has long been a priority of most parents, teachers and advocates in New York City. Many states and cities have passed laws requiring smaller classrooms, such as the state of Florida.
Studies have repeatedly shown that smaller classrooms improve student achievement, reduce teacher attrition, decrease student disciplinary problems, and increase parent involvement. They have proved especially effective for the elementary grades, but smaller classrooms in high schools are believed to reduce dropout rates, as well.
Today, the New York City schools classrooms are the largest ones in the state. The Court of Appeals ruled in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case that class sizes in the New York City schools were too large to provide students their “constitutional right to an adequate education.” The public is complaining that the mayor only plans to spend two percent of the money received from the lawsuit toward reducing class sizes within the New York City schools; yet, he plans to spend ten times as much on more school administrators and specialists.
According to the Gotham Gazette, the mayor and Klein are undermining the reduction of classroom size in six major ways:
•Ignoring State Law — Since 1999, over $500 million has been given to the New York City schools by the state to cut class size. According to an audit released in March by State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, only 20 extra classes in kindergarten through third grade were created as of last year, compared to the 1,586 classes the New York City schools officials said had been formed.
The audit also showed that officials had sharply cut back the number of K-3 classes by almost 900 over the last four years. Classes should now be 19.1 students per class; however, they remain with 65 percent of the students in classes with 21 students or more, and 26 percent in classes with 25 students or more.
•Not Allowing Voters to Decide — Over 100,000 New Yorkers signed petitions last year to put an amendment on the ballot that would require a minimum of 25 percent of funds owed the New York City schools from the lawsuit be spent on class size reduction. New York City schools officials blocked the proposal, stating it was “improper”, since the New York City schools are under the authority of the state and do not have to comply with city laws. Many voters and advocate groups are contesting.
•Fewer New Classroom Seats Are Being Created — Reporter Leonie Haimson believes the city is in danger of creating more seats in new stadiums than in New York City schools during Bloomberg’s administration. The following are the number of new seats added, according to the Mayor’s Management Report:
o22,267 seats in fiscal year 2003,
o12,921 in 2004,
o8,631 in 2005,
o4,287 in 2006, and
o204 thus far, this year.
Yet, all five boroughs are experiencing a development boom in their neighborhoods. In other major cities across the country, developers are being required to provide schools and other community needs as part of their development projects. New York City has no such requirement. Therefore, there are fewer seats with no expectation of more being added, even though development is increasing.
• No School Plans for Governors Island — When the mayor was elected in 2001, he pledged to put a major high school and university on the island, which has current facilities sitting vacant that once were used as classrooms. According to Gazette sources, no one is discussing a plan for a school in that location, and the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation has been told to maximize the island’s profit-making potential. A new high school on the island would have relieved a lot of overcrowding in the other secondary New York City schools.
• More Charter Schools Being Created — The mayor plans to create up to 100 new charter schools, and the New York City schools capital plan calls for 74 percent of them to be put into existing New York City schools buildings. With new charter schools taking currently used New York City schools classroom space that means more overcrowding and larger classrooms for the New York City schools.
• New Administrative Positions — The creation of new administrative positions within the New York City schools has exploded since the mayor was elected. The city comptroller found in 2005 that the New York City schools had lost over 2,000 teachers without replacement within two years, further crowding more students into each classroom. The Educational Priorities Panel recently found that the amount of money devoted to instruction had steadily declined during the first four years of the mayor’s administration. Meanwhile, the number of new administrative positions has escalated, with only a slight decline in administrators at the district level.
The public’s concerns over classroom size are growing, as the mayor and Klein appear to be focusing on other concerns for the New York City schools.