Thursday, October 22, 2015

Class Size Progress

Somehow, in UFT-Unity World, having 5,000 oversized classes is a huge improvement over having 6,000 oversized classes. Granted, the problem is down by almost 20%, but it is a problem. And once it's solved, if it's solved, all it means is that high school classes will be at 34, still the highest in NY State.

Lots of people are out there paying valuable lip service to class size. There's our President, Michael Mulgrew. There's our Mayor, Bill de Blasio. If I recall correctly, at some point even Michael Bloomberg was planning to reduce class sizes. Of course, that devolved into his asking teachers to teach extra classes for free, and finally to his proposal we raise class size to 70 and fire half the teachers.

While it's nice to hear Mulgrew talk class size, and while it's also positive that he's pushing for CFE funds, it's quite obvious that the only instrument that controls class sizes is the UFT Contract. I've been doing this since 1984, and it hasn't changed at all. I understand the current class limit had been another two decades before I started. So in 50 years we've made no progress at all beyond blah, blah, blah.

A colleague pointed out it used to be that 34 was the maximum. Now it's pretty much the norm. I know someone who likens it to a game of whack a mole. Every time someone new comes in, class sizes pop up. Then someone complains, or files a grievance, and hopefully it gets fixed. But maybe it doesn't.

People in other schools have reported to me that some arbitrators have been ordering that class sizes stay high in exchange for teachers being relieved from their C6 assignment. I was pretty surprised to hear this because a music teacher in my school had a strings class of 35 and we had to pass an SBO to allow him to continue teaching it and be relieved from his C6 assignment. As it happens, his assignment was maintaining instruments and I happen to know he continued to do it.

It's nice to be relieved from your C6. It's particularly nice if you have some idiotic assignment like hall or lunchroom duty, or the ever-popular potty patrol. Why should teachers fritter away time preparing classes when they could do that? Thanks, 2005 contract. Actually I'd rather teach an oversized class than do any of those things. On the other hand, maybe your C6 is something, you know, professional, like tutoring. You then have a school with oversized classes and fewer opportunities to compensate for them. Of course, you may very well have teachers who do the C6 despite not having to. That's a lose-lose, if you ask me.

For decades we've managed to sidestep this issue. Union leadership supports it but refuses to negotiate it into contract. (And perish forbid we should as for lower class size in exchange for waiting ten years to get paid, or second tier due process, or selling out members who resign, die, are fired, or on leave.) The mayor supports it but does nothing about it. The state supports it as long as they don't have to, you know, pay for it. Perish forbid they should do like other states and finance needier districts at a higher rate. Who cares if a lawsuit fought over a decade orders them to do it? How can Andrew Cuomo focus on that when he has to spend so much time kissing Eva Moskowitz's ass? After all, isn't that what he's paid to do?

It's pretty frustrating, because there's a huge difference between teaching classes of 25 and 34. It's very tough to give the sort of attention kids need and deserve when you see 170 of them every day. I'd like to see Andrew Cuomo the student lobbyist give it a try. Someone as thin-skinned as he is wouldn't last long.

It would make a great sitcom if the situation weren't so tragic.
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