Public school classrooms citywide are exceeding United Federation of Teachers class-size limits, states a report from the New York City Independent Budget Office released at the end of September.
The report found there was a small decrease in classroom overcrowding between the '05-'06 and the '06-'07 school years, but that it was due to lower enrollment rates, not due to any specific policy change instituted as part of the Department of Education's commitment to reducing class sizes.
According to Leonie Haimson, founder of Class Size Matters, a non-profit organization advocating for smaller class sizes in New York City, class size averages are dropping at far less than 1 percent per year. In grades K-3 classes have seen a drop of .3 percent, while in grades 4-8 the drop has only been .8 percent—about a decrease of about 70 percent of a child per class in Harlem's District 5.
Haimson estimated that unless enrollment trends change, New York City class sizes could take decades to decrease to the level that the United Federation of Teachers calls ideal.
The UFT class-size limits dictate that no kindergarten classroom should have more than 25 students, grades 1-3 should have no more than 29 students, and grades 4-8 no more than 30 students. While some schools are working to add more classes to decrease the number of students per class, many districts still have a lot of work to do.
"I think lower class size, if done properly, and I underscore that, and if done sensibly and flexibly, is a real benefit to our kids," schools Chancellor Joel Klein said to WNBC.
"The situation is improving in the K-3 grades due to government assistance, but older students still face packed rooms and overloaded teachers," Haimson said.
The IBO's data reveals that 63 percent of students between kindergarten and third grade are still in classrooms of 21 students or more, despite the aid Haimson mentions.
Last year, the average size of 4th-through-8th-grade classes increased in many districts, including District 3, which includes students from Morningside Heights and the Upper West Side.
While other nearby districts, like Districts 5 and 6 in Harlem and Washington Heights, respectively, have been able to decrease their average class sizes to around 25 students, District 3 schools have seen an increase in class size to over 26 students. Throughout the city, nearly one-third of students in grades 4 through 8 are in classes of 30-or-more students.
A state review of the DOE class-size-reduction program cites the lack of space as the main contributing factor explaining why so many schools have overfilled classrooms. While it is clear that more classrooms are needed, the space in which to build these classrooms is difficult to find and had caused many schools to compromise other programs—for instance, one school created two classrooms by eliminating its gymnasium.
Thus far, the DOE has created only 20 new classrooms throughout the city, despite being allotted $90 million in state funds for this purpose, a fact that an audit completed by the state comptroller's office revealed.
Reducing class sizes was one of the goals listed in the "Contract for Excellence" that accompanied the billions in state funds that were infused into education by Governor Eliot Spitzer and the state legislature this April. Temporary details about how to spend these funds in the neediest school districts will be ironed out starting at the end of the month, about one month behind schedule.
But Klein claimed in his interview with WNBC that class size is not the most important factor in achieving quality education: "I don't know a parent alive who wouldn't want their kid in a class of 25 with a great teacher rather than in a class of 20 with a mediocre teacher."
Lydia Wileden can be reached at email@example.com.