Thursday, July 06, 2017

Class Size and Its Discontents

Class sizes are the sort of things I have bad dreams about. As chapter leader of the largest school in Queens, likely the most overcrowded in the city, it haunts me. When I first took this job, we were running a 13 period day and carried 4600 students. I wrote about it in the Daily News and elsewhere. I haunted education writers night and day, and got us into the Post, repeatedly, and the Times too.

I watched Bloomberg and Klein acknowledge us on TV, mumbling weasel excuses for their blithering incompetence. At that time, then-UFT VP Leo Casey was able to arrange a meeting at Tweed with reps from UFT, CSE, DOE, and our School Leadership Team. We came to an agreement that we would reduce enrollment at Lewis via fewer out-of-district entries and carefully checking that those within district actually lived there. Our then-principal, in exchange for this, gave up some selected seats.

This worked for a while but little by little it began to fall apart. For reasons I won't go into here, repeating what I did in 2009 became untenable. However I had the good fortune to be elected to the UFT Executive Board this year, and when I complained about our renewed overcrowding Ellie Engler was very receptive. She arranged a meeting with the School Construction Authority and we came to an agreement to construct an annex behind our school to not only replace our miserable outdated trailers, but also to provide additional space for our existing students.

And still, while we await construction, overcrowding continues unabated not only in our school, but all over the city. We are fortunate to have great advocates like Leonie Haimson and Tish James, who are now holding the city's feet to the fire over its failure to fulfill its obligations to provide reasonable class sizes for our children. The fact is class sizes have been increasing rather than decreasing for years, and despite Carmen Fariña's proclamations about the great job she does, this does not leave our children well-served.

There is no substitute for reasonable class sizes. Since I've been counting class sizes I couldn't help but notice that 34 has become the norm rather than the maximum. This is unconscionable, particularly for the ESL students I serve. They need more attention, not less, and I'm grateful and happy that someone other than me notices it and is fighting for them.

The fact is that the city routinely ignores areas and schools like mine, where we are bursting at the seams with no end in sight. I'm very grateful for the support of both UFT and the city in expanding our facility, but I'm far from confident this will be a permanent solution. While the current principal and I will fight to keep our population from expanding once the annex goes up, neither of us will be around forever. We will have to trust that the city and those who follow us will continue to ensure that safeguards remain.

Sadly, experience suggests they will not do that. We need more people like Haimson and James to keep up the fight. And we need UFT leadership to strongly support this too. 
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