Friday, October 14, 2016

Class Size, Overcrowding, the DOE and Me

Yesterday morning I went to the American Arbitration Association to grieve class sizes. Oddly, we had to evacuate the building for a fire drill. I felt right at home, except for being on the street. We hastily reassembled at 52 Broadway, a block south.

As instructed, I had three copies of our master schedule, which runs over fifty pages. We had 37 oversized classes, personally highlighted by yours truly. There were three other chapter leaders there and I was set to go third.

However, as soon as I got in I learned that our master had been revised. So, lucky me, I got bumped, and had to wait until they made three more copies. Then I sat and highlighted them all over again, which is always big fun. There were fewer oversized classes, of course, so it had to be done

The lawyer from the DOE has an interesting job. Whatever you argue, she has to argue the opposite. There are always reasons to keep classes oversized. For example, if a teacher has a College Now class, they argue that since a college is paying the teacher for that class, the contract doesn't apply. It doesn't matter that the class is taught in a UFT school, that the teacher is a UFT teacher, or that the kids are in a class of 36. It doesn't matter if the kid gets a grade on her report card, or if the kid gets high school credit. Another brilliant win for the DOE.

Then there are the music classes, which are a disgrace. For reasons that elude me completely, required music classes can go up to 50. Required music is actually an academic class. The teacher might be teaching music history, and that could really be enlightening for kids who'd never be exposed to it otherwise. But the way we introduce it to them is via a ridiculously overcrowded class in which their chance of learning is not all that good. So much for how much NYC values culture, or cares whether or not our young people are exposed to it.

I understand why we might leave performing groups, like choirs and orchestras, in groups of 50. These kids are already at a point in which they're engrossed in music, and they wouldn't choose these classes if they weren't motivated. It's a lot different in required music, a class a whole lot of kids would just as soon not take.

There has been some minimal progress on the music front. Classes like guitar, in which students are not performing groups, are now capped at 34. That's a boon for kids who want to learn to play. If you have a kid in a city school, and a class like that is available, see if your kid wants to take it. I'd much rather see my kid play an instrument than read a book about music.

Then there are the classes that are simply oversized. The DOE always asks for exceptions. Always. It's the job of the DOE lawyer to argue for higher class sizes for city kids. It's kind of amazing. The motto of the DOE is "Children First, Always." How the hell is arguing for class sizes that exceed the highest allowable in the state of New York placing children first, ever? Yet that's what they do.

I would not want to be one of those lawyers. 

What does the DOE do that's worthwhile? Well, last night I was at a very encouraging meeting where real live people from the DOE met with UFT members and discussed making space for the students of my preposterously overcrowded school, among others.  They're going to look at it and discuss extending our school, the largest in Queens, to accommodate our capacity, now around 200%.

Wish us luck.
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