The DOE could care less about most laws and now they are being taken to task by Councilman Robert Jackson and parent activist Leonie Haimson in this brilliant letter to the new state education commissioner. We urge everyone to go to the New York City Parent blog and sign on quickly as Oct 8 is the deadline for comments on the city Contract for Excellence plan.
To Commissioner Steiner:
We urge you to require the city to start reducing class size now, according to the terms of its Contracts for Excellence (C4E). Smaller classes remain the top priority of NYC parents, according to the Department of Education’s own surveys, and the state’s highest court said that our children were deprived of their constitutional right to an adequate education in large part because of excessive class sizes.
In return for receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in additional state funds, the city promised that class sizes would be lowered each year until the citywide average would be no more than 20 students per class in grades K-3 and 23 in all other grades by the fall of 2011. Class size reduction is now a state mandate, and yet last year class sizes increased last year by the largest amount in ten years; and there are widespread reports of further increases this year.
In addition, the C4E process for public participation has been deeply flawed, as the city failed to hold any public hearings this past June, as recommended by the state, and has refused to hold any borough hearings, as required by law. Instead, a power point is being presented to Community Education Councils which omits any mention of the city’s five year class size reduction plan, as well as the DOE’s failure to meet its class size targets for two years in a row.
In its official C4E submission, the city pledged to the state that the “the Department continues to be committed to reducing class size in early grades via the Early Grade Class Size Reduction program." Yet when an audit was released in September, revealing the misuse of millions of dollars of these funds, the DOE claimed that the program “no longer exists.” Please see attached fact sheet for more information on these findings. Clearly, the city has reneged on its promise to reduce class size.
It is time that the state utilizes its full oversight authority, and requires that the city comply with the law. We recommend that a corrective action plan be imposed with the following provisions:
1-The city’s plan should be revised to include specific class size reduction goals by school, district, and citywide -- sufficient to achieve its annual and five year goals.
2-The city should be obligated to assign whatever teachers remain on absent teacher reserve (ATR) to regular classrooms in their respective districts, so that class sizes can be reduced from current levels.
3-The city should be forbidden from further pursuing any20policies that conflict with its class size goals, including placing new schools in buildings before smaller classes have been achieved in the existing schools. DOE continues to insert new schools into buildings where the existing school is “underutilized” according to a formula which assumes near maximum class sizes.
4. The state should require that the city revise its capital plan so that it can provide enough space necessary for its class size goals to be achieved, as the C4E regulations require.
5. The state should hold back all C4E funds before the city has reported to the state in detail what reductions have been achieved by school, district and citywide, reporting that is now mandated by the state to occur by November 17.
This year will be the mid-point in the city’s five year class size reduction plan, instituted by the Legislature so that our children could eventually be assured of an adequate education. There is no time to waste.
If the State Education Department does not require these basic steps to demand accountability and credibility on the part of the city, it will have failed in its responsibilities to our children, to the Legislature, and to New York taxpayers.
Leonie Haimson, Executive Director, Class Size Matters and public school parent
City Council Member Robert Jackson, chair, Education Committee and plaintiff, Campaign for Fiscal Equity