Council hearings on class size so overcrowded that scores of parents and advocates are turned away

credit @TeensTakeCharge

For immediate release

Friday, Feb. 28, 2020

Contact: Leonie Haimson;; 917-435-9329.

Council hearings on class size so overcrowded that scores of parents and advocates are  turned away

Today, from 10 AM to 3:45 PM, the City Council Education Committee held hearings on class size at City Hall.  So many people showed up to testify that it was standing room only in the Committee hearing room.  It was so overcrowded that City Hall guards did not allow many of the parents and advocates who had planned to testify enter the room, and many left before they had a chance to speak.

First, Chair of the Education Committee Mark Treyger, a former teacher himself, opened the hearings by saying that “Unfortunately, efforts to reduce class size in New York City public schools haven’t gotten very far despite all the passion & hard work of parents, advocates, teachers & students – including many here today.”  Indeed class sizes have risen substantially since NY state’s highest court said that class sizes in NYC schools were too large to provide students with their constitutional right to an adequate education.

Chair Treyger questioned Karin Goldmark , Deputy Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education and Lorraine Grillo, President of the School Construction Authority, asking if they prioritized reducing class size as a goal.  Goldmark was non-committal, saying  that though the DOE realized the research shows that smaller classes do lead to better student outcomes, there is a lack of resources and NYC schools have many needs.

When Chair Treyger asked her what number she would give to the importance of class size from one to ten, she refused to say. She also said she didn’t know if the DOE had ever tried to analyze the results to see if smaller classes were correlated with student success, and she did not know if Edustat or any of the other data systems that the DOE currently uses or plans to use in the future even capture class size as a critical factor. It was clear after questioning that the Quality Reviews that DOE officials carry out and that are supposed to highlight for principals what changes are needed in their schools never mention class size.

Then many parents, former teachers, students, advocates, education leaders, professors, school service providers and representatives from community based organizations testified from their own experience how NYC students are deprived of a quality education and a better chance to learn because of class sizes out of control.  Many urged the City Council to ensure that at least $100 million is allocated for class size reduction in next year’s budget, as the first step towards providing an equitable education for the city’s students..  All children benefit from smaller classes, the research shows, but especially those children from low-income families, students of color, English Language Learners, and students with special needs, which together make up the majority of NYC public school students.

Kathleen Cashin, former NYC Superintendent and now a member of the NY State Board of Regents from Brooklyn, observed: “In 1999, when I was Superintendent of District 23 in Ocean Hill Brownsville, the fourth graders had to take a multi-faceted state test for the first time, including reading, writing and listening.  The first thing I did was to reduce class size in that grade to 16 to 20 students per class. The results were astounding.  The children in one of the poorest districts in the nation had the greatest growth of any district in the city.  The key initiative that caused this substantial growth, I believe, was lowering their class size.  Teachers were able to manage their classes better, which caused them to gain confidence, and encouraged them to collaborate with each other.  This in turn, strengthened their professionalism and skills.”  She added, “When you reduce class size, everything changes.  The world changes.”

“Class size is one of the reasons I helped start the Campaign for Fiscal Equity back in 1993, seeing how overcrowded the schools in District 6 were during my time as president of the board,” said State Senator Robert Jackson. “I understand some of DOE’s resistance to hiring more teachers comes from fiscal concerns. That’s why I’m committed to fully funding the Foundation Aid formula at the state level. I’ve introduced a bill that adds a new bracket to increase income tax on New York’s highest earners, generating an estimated $4.5 billion in revenue. But the DOE has to commit to use that in adherence to the Contracts for Excellence,” Senator Jackson added, which requires NYC to implement class size reduction.

Joshua Aronson, NYU Professor of Psychology and Education explained: “I have visited many schools in NYC and elsewhere in the nation. Manageable class sizes aren’t sufficient to fix our schools. But from my personal observations as well my analysis of the research, I believe small class sizes may be necessary to creating the a powerful school culture, especially in underserved populations, that students need to succeed. All children can become eager, curious learners, but only when their key physical and social needs are met.  This takes time, care, compassion— and most importantly—small class sizes. When a school offers small classes it can accomplish what others can only dream of. Reducing class size is expensive on the front end, but the benefits will soon outweigh the costs in my opinion, and in the opinion of nearly every teacher and principal I have ever met.”

Tiffani Torres, a senior at Pace HS and a member of Teens Take Charge, said: “Having been in both small and large classes, I know first-hand the difference between both.  In smaller classes, I can ask questions without fear of distracting 30 other students, and can receive more one- on- one help from my teachers.”  She talked about how many students had dropped out of her calculus class because it was too large, and how many of those who remained were confused because of the lack of focused feedback and support from her teacher. Both she and Lorraie Forbes, another student, said that they would give class size a ten for its importance for student learning and engagement.

Jacqueline Shannon, Associate Professor and the Department Chair of Early Childhood and Art Education at Brooklyn College, said: “In 2014, I helped write a letter to then-Chancellor Farina, warning her that increases in class size that had occurred since 2007 in NYC public schools, particularly in the early grades, threatened to undermine the gains one might otherwise expect from the expansion of preK.  Our letter was signed by over 70 professors of education, psychology, and sociology. Since then, the city has made very little progress in lowering class sizes.  The number of children in Kindergarten in classes of 25 or more has risen by 68%  since 2007, and the number of  1st through 3rd graders of thirty or more has increased by nearly 3000%.  While the Mayor should be thanked for expanding preK and now 3K, early childhood education does not end at age 5.  The city should now  focus on lowering class sizes in our public schools.”


Shino Tanikawa, the co-chair of the Education Council Consortium, which represents the parent-led Citywide and Community Education Councils in NYC, said, “It has been nearly twenty years since the landmark CFE decision, which mandated smaller classes for NYC schools.  Although the City submitted a class size reduction plan, it was abandoned by both the DOE and the NYS Education Department, and instead our schools experienced a sharp increase in class sizes across the city.  The Chancellor has been pushing for school integration but we must reduce class sizes for integration to succeed.  Class size reduction is an urgent need that cannot wait.”

“I’ve worked in many schools and know from my own personal experience that class sizes should be smaller to give students a better chance at success,” said Evie Hantzopoulos, Executive Director of Global Kids and public school parent.  “Research proves that this simple strategy helps all students, and especially our most vulnerable ones, achieve the positive learning outcomes needed for the 21st Century.”

State Senator Brad Hoylman, whose statement was read for him by a staffer, observed : “On average, NYC public school classrooms have 10-30% more students than elsewhere in the state. As the elected representative for thousands of families with young children, I know reducing class size is a primary concern. My constituents — and every child in New York — deserve the opportunity to succeed in school, and class size is an integral factor in determining student success. I’m proud to stand with my colleague Senator Jackson and Class Size Matters in support of reducing class size in New York.”

Tanesha Grant, a member of the Community Education Council in District 5 as well as AQE and CEJ, stated:  “Class size has grown tremendously since 2007 in our schools, which has a deep impact on the quality of education our children receive.  This impacts black and brown students the hardest. Our children are given hurdles to jump over to just to get an equitable  education. As a black mother of three and grandmother of an autistic grandson, I know class size matters. I see how it affects my children’s learning. The  data proves that class size MATTERS!”

Parent advocate Johanna Garcia and plaintiff in the class size lawsuit launched by nine NYC parents, Class Size Matters and AQE that was argued in the Appellate court last month said: “Class size matters. It’s a simple idea, and it’s one of the single most effective tools we have to improve the quality of the education our children receive. As a Black and Latina parent advocate, I understand the failures to reduce New York City class size to be a huge factor in educational racism because it has detrimental effects on a student body that is 85% Black and Brown and predominantly working-class. If we are serious about addressing that educational racism, we must get serious about class size in our schools. We have to be honest about the problems and clear-eyed about implementing the solutions going forward. Let’s count our students fairly and hire more teachers in line with the law so our children  get the quality education they deserve.”

Nearly half of all middle school students are in classes of 30 or more; and more than half of high school students are in classes thirty or more.  Jessica Siegel, a professor at Brooklyn College and a former teacher, recounted what one middle school teacher had told her about how she felt  being unable to give sufficient help to all her students: “My largest 8th grade class is a whopping 37 students. I teach two more classes, one with 32 and the last one with 28. Both include English Language Learners and students who require push in services for their Individualized Education Plans. I feel as though I’m being torn to shreds when I’m helping others, their eyes hungry and ready and yet there you are unable to reach them. It’s as if you have one life raft and must choose which child gets saved. It’s heart wrenching and demoralizing.”

Elsie McCabe Thompson, head of the Mission Society, one of the nation’s oldest social service organizations, testified that they see thousands of children in poverty. One third have diagnosed special needs; but most have suffered trauma. Smaller classes are important for ALL these children, she said, because as a teacher, “you cannot authentically have high expectations for kids that you do not know.”

A statement was read on behalf of Diane Ravitch, eminent historian and education advocate: “The single most effective way to improve instruction is to reduce class size. The benefits of class size reduction are greatest for the neediest students. . If you are serious about helping children, reduce class size. If you are serious about helping teachers to be more effective, reduce class size. Reducing class size is more effective than test prep; it is more effective than hiring coaches and consultants. It is more effective than buying new hardware and software. It is more effective than any of the many other “reforms” that have been imposed by the federal or state government.  New York State’s scores on national tests have been flat for twenty years. It is time for fresh thinking. Do what works! Reduce class sizes!”

For data on current class sizes in NYC schools and trends, as well as the research on class size, check out

Categories Press Releases, Updates | Tags: | Posted on March 3, 2020

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