Common Sense on Class Size
Sad to say, foresight is an attribute seldom displayed these days. Just about everything seems to be geared toward the short term, the quick fix, the windfall profit.
Unfortunately, that holds true in our public schools with budgetary choices that often reflect a failure to think long term. Year after year, we fail to make critical investments that would provide permanent benefits to students, parents and educators.
That is certainly the case with class size, which is 10 to 60 percent higher in New York City than in the rest of the state, depending on grade and subject. Education reforms come and go as different mayors and chancellors try new or not-so-new initiatives without addressing that key issue.
The repeated failure to reduce class size condemns us to fall short of our education goals, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Until we have smaller classes taught by qualified teachers we will not fundamentally advance teaching and learning for our children. It’s common sense.
Critics say reducing class size by hiring more educators is simply a teacher union ploy to get more members and more dues. That attitude ignores research that shows that smaller classes allow teachers to give students more individual attention, reduce discipline problems, increase graduation rates and help students do better on the high-stakes tests that drive education policy from the federal level on down.
Think about it: A teacher will have more time for each child—both in class and in all the marking of students’ work—if there are fewer students in the class. It’s reasonable for teachers to expect better results with a class of 22 students as opposed to the classes of 34 that we see in many of our schools. Again, it’s common sense—bolstered in this case by a body of research.
That logic led to an extraordinary coalition of civic associations, community groups, education advocates and parent organizations bonding to address the class size issue. The coalition is called New Yorkers for Smaller Classes, and twice within the last three years it collected over 100,000 signatures to put a referendum on the ballot so voters could voice their opinions on this issue. But both times Mayor Bloomberg knocked the issue off the ballot. The courts are now deciding whether to let voters decide.
The UFT is supporting a massive campaign to address this problem once and for all, and the timing is right. The city recently secured its largest school building campaign ever with more than $11 billion in new capital construction funds that could result in at least 107 new schools containing 66,000 new classroom seats. So lack of space will no longer be an excuse. With a new governor coming into office and only one more court battle to go in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case—a 13-year battle to get New York City its fair share of state education aid—now is the time to fight for and plan for the investments we know will help our children succeed.
That’s why parents and educators are launching this campaign to convince the public and our elected officials that reducing class sizes is a long-term investment that must be made. Pulitzer Prize-winning author—and former New York City high school teacher—Frank McCourt has graciously volunteered to be honorary chairman of our class size coalition. Details on the campaign can be found on the coalition Web site, www.newyorkersforsmallerclasses.org.
Recently, educators and coalition members conducted informational picketing in the morning and/or afternoon at public schools across the city. They also conducted a citywide leafleting campaign at key transportation hubs. An immediate Internet ad and a major TV ad in coming weeks will be part of the campaign.
We need everyone’s support in this campaign because it will take more than just educators and parents. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to lower class size for all children in the city, and we cannot afford to miss it. With your help, we can finally make a crucial long-term investment in our children’s future that will benefit an entire generation. Please join us and let your voice be heard!#
Randi Weingarten is the President of the United Federation of Teachers in NYC.