The Impact of PreK on School Overcrowding in NYC: Lack of Planning, Lack of Space,

Full report with citations posted here (pdf):The Impact of PreK on School Overcrowding in NYC: Lack of Planning, Lack of Space, Dec. 2018.

A Daily News article about the report is here.


New York City public schools are critically overcrowded. About 575,000 students, more than half of all students, attended schools that are at or above 100 percent capacity, according to the latest available data from the Department of Education, with about 43 percent of schools in that category.

Our analysis finds that more than half of the 25,000 students who attended pre-K classes in DOE buildings in 2016-2017 were placed in 352 schools that were overutilized, meaning at 100 percent or above, thus contributing to worse overcrowding for about 236,000 students.

In recent years, overcrowding has worsened significantly, especially at the elementary school level. Nearly 60 percent of elementary schools were at 100 percent or more in 2016-2017 and 67 percent of elementary grade students attended these schools. This is due in part to the fact that enrollment in these grades has increased faster than new school construction. The expansion of universal prekindergarten has also exacerbated overcrowding in elementary schools, as this report will describe.

School overcrowding undermines quality education in many ways, from denying students the opportunity to have small classes, preventing their access to the cafeteria at reasonable lunch times, precluding them from having adequate time to exercise in the gymnasium and/or playground, and/or impeding their ability to receive art classes, music, counseling or mandated services in appropriate spaces.  Students in overcrowded schools experience greater levels of stress, and teachers in overutilized schools are more likely to leave the profession quickly.

Mayor de Blasio’s Pre-K for All Initiative enrolls about 70,000 students,4 an increase from the 20,000 students provided with full-day pre-K prior to de Blasio taking office. About 35 percent of these students are enrolled in pre-K classes inside public elementary schools.

In about one quarter (22 percent) of these schools, the expansion of pre-K actually forced the school to these levels.  As of 2016-2017, 76 elementary schools, with a total of 45,124 students, became overutilized, according to the DOE’s data, because of the additional number of pre-K students at their schools.

In addition, thirty schools or 60 percent of schools with Kindergarten waitlists had pre-K classes in 2017-2018, necessitating these children to be sent to schools outside their zone and sometimes far from home.

The DOE began to implement 3-K in 18 schools in two districts during the 2017-2018 school year. Three of these schools were already overcrowded in the prior year. Additionally, of the 61 additional schools adding 3-K during the current 2018-2019 school year, more than one fourth of them were already overcrowded, according to the latest available data.8 Several of these were also Renewal schools, meaning they were struggling with low performance and in danger of being closed.

To make things worse, the NYC Department of Education failed for many years to update its methodology for projecting the need for new school capacity for many years, and its formula did not account for the expansion of thousands of new pre-K students in the schools.

The Mayor and Chancellor proposed a new 2020-2024 Five-Year Capital Plan for schools on November 5, 2018. Although the press release from the Mayor’s office claims that new plan includes “funding for 57,000 seats over the next five years, our analysis finds that 50,000 of these seats won’t be completed until 2024 or later, long after the Mayor has left office.  More than half of these seats – about 37,000 – actually won’t be completed until after 2024, when the Five-Year Capital Plan is over.   By that time it is likely that our schools will be even more overcrowded, lagging far behind the pace of new residential development and population

If cramming more pre-K students into public schools worsens school overcrowding, increases class size, and/or sacrifices the space necessary for a well-rounded curriculum, then the educational benefits of the program will be undermined. A letter signed by more than seventy early childhood education and psychology researchers in 2014 made this point, and urged then- Chancellor Farina to broaden her focus from merely expanding pre-K to reducing class size in the elementary grades as well.

A recent large-scale experimental study in Tennessee found that pre-K is no silver bullet, and failed to produce gains in achievement.15 The chief investigators of the study emphasized that the lack of results underscored how the quality of the entire early childhood educational experience through 3rd grade should be addressed, including the need for small class sizes, if improvements in student learning and other outcomes will be met.

More on this in the full report here.

Categories Reports & Memos, Uncategorized | Tags: | Posted on December 18, 2018

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