Saturday, September 26, 2009

School overcrowding and rising class sizes: who is to blame?

In response to questions and complaints about increased class sizes and overcrowding at schools all over the city, DOE officials commonly have blamed parents, for insisting on sending their kids to popular schools.

Yet their refusal to take responsibility for the problem, though typical, belies the reality: that the vast majority of K-8 students attend their local zoned neighborhood schools, and DOE completely controls how many students are assigned each high school through through OSEPO (the Office of School Enrollment, Planning and Operations).

So what are some of the real sources of the increased overcrowding?

1- The administration's disinterest and disinvestment in keeping class sizes low. Despite a state law requiring NYC to reduce class size in all grades, there are now 1600 fewer classroom teachers, and 10,000 more out-of-classroom staff since the Mayor took control of our schools, including many more highly paid administrators, and 2,000 additional school secretaries. Moreover, numerous audits and reports from the State Comptroller, the City Comptroller, and the State Education Department have found fault with the city's failure to spend state funds specifically targeted to class size reduction according to the intent of the law.

2-As described in numerous reports, their failure to adequately plan and build new schools for communities that have seen increased enrollment, especially in the younger grades. (For the latest reports from the City Comptroller and the Manhattan Borough President, see here and here.) This has also led to a significant increase in the percentage of students attending overcrowded schools, as well as more Kindergarten students being forced to attend schools outside their neighborhood schools.

3. At the high school level, the growing number of new small schools have caused our large comprehensive high schools to be increasingly flooded by students excluded from the small schools, which have capped enrollment and class sizes at lower levels. The reality is that different high school (and sometimes middle school) principals have different deals with the Department of Education, with many selective smaller schools (and charter schools housed in DOE buildings) allowed to cap enrollment at lower levels so that they can keep class sizes under 25, while other principals are inundated with so many students it is difficult for them to keep to the union contractual limits of 34.

The increased number of small schools jammed into existing school buildings has also directly contributed to more overcrowding overall, as each new small school and charter school eats up classroom space with more administrative and cluster rooms. More than one fourth of all NYC principals report that the insertion of new schools or programs into their buildings have led to more overcrowding in their schools.

4. Large budget cuts imposed at the school level by the city in recent years, including this fall, have made it harder for principals to keep sufficient teachers on staff , while the salaries of Tweed bureaucrats and consultants continues to grow apace.

All of these phenomena result directly from the flawed priorities, policies and budgetary decisions made by this administration. The DOE's attempt to blame parents for the resulting overcrowding is yet another way in which the accountability promised by mayoral control has failed to materialize.