What Has Happened to NYC Class Sizes over the last five years and why? | Special Education | Teachers

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September 25, 2012 What has happened to class size in NYC schools over the last five years?

In the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, the state’s highest court concluded that NYC children were denied their constitutional right to an adequate education, in large part due to excessive class sizes.1 In 2007, this led to the passage of a state law called the Contracts for Excellence.2 One of this law’s provisions requires NYC to lower its class sizes in all grades in return for receiving additional state funding: (ii) In a city school district in a city having a population of one million or more inhabitants such contract shall also include a plan to reduce average class sizes, as defined by the commissioner, within five years for the following grade ranges: (A) pre-kindergarten-third grade; (B) fourth-eighth grade; and (C) high school. Such plan shall include class size reduction for low performing and overcrowded schools and also include the methods to be used to achieve such class sizes, such as the creation or construction of more classrooms and school buildings, the placement of more than one teacher in a classroom or methods to otherwise reduce the student to teacher ratio… In November 2007, a 5-year class reduction plan was approved by the state. This plan obligated the city’s Department of Education to reduce class sizes to a citywide average of no more than 20 students per class in grades K-3, 23 students per class in grades 4-8 and 25 students in high school.3 Since this plan’s inception in 2007, NYC has received over $2 billion in cumulative additional state aid. Yet class size averages have risen sharply for four years in a row at all grade levels. The early grades are now the largest they have been in 13 years.4


Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc., et al. v. State of New York, et al., 100 N.Y.2d 893, 911-12, 2003.


NY State Education law § 211-D Contract for Excellence, accessed at <http://law.onecle.com/newyork/education/EDN0211-D_211-D.html>.

NY State Education Department, “Contracts For Excellence Approved for 55 School Districts,” November 19, 2007, accessed at <http://www.oms.nysed.gov/press/C4ERelease.htm>; NYC Department of Education, “Citywide Class Size Reduction Five-Year Plan, Five-Year Plan Executive Summary,” November 8, 2007, accessed at <http://eservices.nysed.gov/c4epublic/reports/2007/NYC/Other/NYCDOE%20CSRP%205YR_11%208%2007_FINAL.doc> .

Class Size Matters presentation, “Class size increases for fourth year in a row,” Nov. 15, 2011, accessed at <http://www.classsizematters.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/C4E-for-citywide-final.ppt>


More than 85% of all students in grades K-3 exceed 20 students per class, the level that the city promised to achieve by 2011 in their Contracts for Excellence plan, 81% students in grades 4-8 exceed the C4E goals for these grades, and 71% exceed the HS goals of 25.5

Why have class sizes increased? In all cases, class size increases have been driven by DOE decisions and policies:  Repeated budget cuts to NYC public schools have amounted to nearly 14% since 2007. These cuts took place even as state aid and overall education spending increased, thereby violating the C4E law that holds that additional funding must be “used to supplement, and not supplant funds” already allocated by the district. In this case for staffing. 6 A vast disinvestment in the classroom has occurred, resulting in a sharp reduction in the number of teachers. Meanwhile, thousands of out-of-classroom positions have been added.7 In 2010, the city eliminated the Early Grade class size reduction program, which had been in existence since 1999. This program was cut despite DOE’s promise to retain it in its state-approved C4E plan. The failure of the city to implement this program properly had been the subject of several critical audits, including the State Comptroller’s office in 2002 and 2006, and the NYC Comptroller’s office in 2009. 8


We have used the Jan. 30 figures for the 2011-12 school year for grades K-8; but the Oct. 31 figures for high school, as thousands of high school students drop out between October and January. For MS and HS we have used English classes. See citywide distribution class size files at <http://schools.nyc.gov/AboutUs/data/classsize/classsize.htm>.

Fernanda Santos, “Lessons in Austerity: How City Principals Make Budgets Work,” New York Times, August 17, 2011.


These positions included additional principals, secretaries, APs, literacy coaches, etc. Jennifer Medina, “With More Money, City Schools Added Jobs,” New York Times, June 30, 2009.

Office of the NY State Comptroller, “Administration And Oversight Of The Early Grade Class Size Reduction Program 2002-S-33,” September 2003, accessed at <http://osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093003/093003-h/02s33.pdf>; Office of the NY State Comptroller, “New York City Department Of Education Administration Of The Early Grade Class Size Reduction Program 2005-N-3,” March 2006, accessed at <http://osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093006/05n3.pdf>; Office of the NYC Comptroller, “Audit Report on the Department of Education’s Administration of the Early Grade Class Size Reduction Program,” FM09-113A,” September 9, 2009, accessed at <http://www.comptroller.nyc.gov/bureaus/audit/09-09-09_FM09-113A.shtm> For the city’s commitment to keep this program intact in their C4E plan, see this: “In addition, the Department continues to be committed to reducing class size in the early grades (i.e., grades K-3) via the Early Grade Class Size Reduction program. This is highlighted by the maintenance of the $88 million State funded program aid this year despite the funding being collapsed into general Foundation Aid.” NYC Department of Education, “Citywide Class Size Reduction Five-Year Plan Five-Year Plan Executive Summary,” November 8, 2007, p. 5, accessed at <http://eservices.nysed.gov/c4epublic/reports/2007/NYC/Other/NYCDOE%20CSRP%205YR_11%208%2007_FINAL.doc> ; See also Anna Phillips, “Thompson says DOE spent class size reduction money elsewhere”, GothamSchools, September 9, 2009; Beth Fertig, “Comptroller Says DOE Didn't Use All Funds for Smaller Class Sizes,” WNYC, September 9, 2009; Michael Scotto, “Thompson Claims Mayor, DOE Misused Funds,” NY1, September 9, 2009; Leonie Haimson, “Class size audit: another broken promise to our children,” NYC Public School Parents, September 11, 2009.


In 2011, the DOE’s decided to no longer abide by a long-standing side agreement with the UFT to cap class sizes at 28 in grades 1st-3rd. As a direct result of this decision, class sizes in these grades in many schools grew to levels last year unprecedented since the 1980’s, with over 31,000 students in 1st through 5th grade in classes of 30 students, more than tripling in number since 20089.9 The city has allowed school overcrowding to worsen, because of rampant co-locations, rising enrollment, and the DOE’s failure to align its capital plan with its class size reduction plan. All these factors have also driven up class sizes, despite specific language in the C4E law which requires that the city’s C4E plan and its capital plan be aligned.10 This fall, the DOE imposed a new policy, requiring principals to increase class sizes to maximum levels to accommodate students with IEPs into regular classrooms. Before principals can request to cap enrollment at their schools, according to DOE, “all of the following conditions must be met: All GE/ICT in a given grade have reached the contractual maximum (K = 25; Grades 1-5 = 32; Grades 6-8 Title I = 30/ Non-Title I = 33).”11 The DOE’s explicit mandate that principals must increase class sizes to maximum levels to accommodate students with disabilities not only violates the city’s legal obligation to reduce class size, but it also contradicts considerable research showing that students with disabilities, whether placed in a general education, inclusion or special education setting, require especially small classes and extra support from their teachers to be successful.12 From 2007 on, the DOE has failed to allocate any funds specifically to class size reduction, despite the legal mandate to lower class size. In 2011, NYC received more than $500 million in C4E funds last year and yet class sizes increased.13 In 2009, DOE estimated that it would cost $358.4 million to achieve the class size goals in its C4E plan on average.14 The city spends nearly one billion dollars subsidizing charter schools, and its total education budget is more than $21 billion, so achieving these goals would cost less than 2% of its overall budget.

Why is class size important to NYC schools: The Institute of Education Sciences cites class size reduction as one of only four reforms that have been proven to work through rigorous evidence. Numerous studies reveal that smaller classes narrow

Office of CM Brad Lander, “Number of Elementary School Students in Very Large Classes Has Skyrocketed Since 2008,” March 2012, accessed at <http://bradlander.com/largeclasses>. 10 “Such plan shall be aligned with the capital plan of the city school district of the city of New York and include continuous class size reduction for low performing and overcrowded schools beginning in the 2007-2008 school year,” accessed at <http://www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2008Meetings/July2008/0708emsca10.htm>.

NYC Department of Education , “Special Education Reform Reference Guide: School Year 2012-13,” n.d., accessed at <http://www.classsizematters.org/wpcontent/uploads/2012/06/DOESPED_Reference_Guide_051612_IEPRevision-22.pdf>.

Leonie Haimson, “Testimony Before the City Council Education Committee on the proposal to make Kindergarten mandatory and the special education initiative,” June 12, 2012, accessed at <http://goo.gl/F2dSC>.

See NY State Education Department at <http://www.p12.nysed.gov/mgtserv/C4E/11-12_C4E/doc/C4E_2011-12MOE_Post.XLS>.

NYC Department of Education, “Response to SED C4E Class Size Questions,” November 23, 2009, accessed at <http://www.p12.nysed.gov/mgtserv/C4E/doc/nyc_class_size_reduction_plan/2009_2010/SED_Response_11232009.pdf>.


the achievement gap between racial and economic groups.15 After controlling for demographic background, children who are placed in smaller classes are more likely to graduate from high school, go to college, and own their own homes more than twenty years later.16 In addition, smaller classes enhance the development of “non-cognitive” skills not captured by tests, like persistence, motivation and self-esteem, which are also linked to success in school and in life. 17 (See attached research brief for more on this issue.) In a survey of New York City principals, co-sponsored by the City Council, 86 percent said that they were unable to provide a quality education because of excessive class sizes.18 Smaller classes have been the top priority of parents on the DOE’s own Learning Environment surveys every year since these surveys have been given.19 As John King, the New York State Education Commissioner, has explained: “Small classes and small overall student loads allow teachers to spend more time working with individual students to help them track their own progress and develop their skills - thus reinforcing the principle that effort yields success. High expectations are easier to maintain when teachers know their students well … can identify whether a student's poor performance on an assessment reflects deficiencies in their effort or their understanding, and can respond accordingly…it is easier to maintain order and high standards for behavior when there are fewer students in each classroom and every adult in the school knows every student. Relationships between staff and students, between staff and each other, and between the staff and students' families are clearly key drivers of achievement … these relationships are much easier to cultivate and sustain when there are fewer students in the classroom seeking the teacher's attention …. It is easier to be a great classroom teacher when you teach a total of seventy-five students than when you teach one hundred fifty students.”20


Institute of Education Sciences, “Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported by Rigorous Evidence: A User Friendly Guide,” December 2003, accessed at <http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/evidence_based/evidence_based.asp>; See also Alan B. Krueger, “Economic Considerations and Class Size,” The Economic Journal, February 2003; Jeremy Finn et.al, “Small Classes in the Early Grades, Academic Achievement, and Graduating From High School,” Journal of Educational Psychology, 2005.

Raj Chetty et. Al, “How Does your Kindergarten classroom affect your earnings? Evidence from Project Star,” NBER Working Paper, 1638; 2010, accessed at <http://www.nber.org/papers/w16381>.

Thomas Dee and Martin West, “The Non-Cognitive Returns to Class Size,” Educational Evaluation And Policy Analysis, March 2011; Philip Babcock and Julian R. Betts, “Reduced-class Distinctions: Effort, Ability and the Education Production Function,” Journal of Urban Economics, May 2009; J. Heckman and Y. Rubinstein, “The Importance of Noncognitive Skills: Lessons from the GED testing program,” The American Economic Review, May 2001.

Emily Horowitz and Leonie Haimson, “How Crowded Are Our Schools? New Results from a Survey of NYC Public School Principals,” October 3, 2008, accessed at <http://goo.gl/bii5J>.

Huffington Post, “Smaller Class Size' Tops List Of Changes New York City Parents Want In Their Children's Schools,”,July 23, 2012.

John B. King, “Bridging The Achievement Gap: Learning From Three Charter Schools,” Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Education in Teachers College, Columbia University, 2008.


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