Wednesday, May 31, 2017

On Class Size--Pay More, Get Less

That's what's happening in Fun City today. Even as the Daily News complains payroll is up by $159 million, we might not be seeing a concurrent improvement in services. Actually, even the article admits that's a 1.57% increase, so I'm not sure why it merits attention. Teachers just got a raise, a good portion of which we earned a decade ago, but it's so recent it's probably not reflected in even this modest increase.

The fact is that this money pays for fewer classroom teachers. Back when Emperor Bloomberg ruled New York City, he decided to stop frittering away money on classroom teachers. At first he huffed and puffed and tried to blow up seniority rights. He threatened to fire a whole lot of teachers. After Bloomberg failed to remove them, he was faced with firing new teachers, you know, the ones who aren't evil like those of us with experience. UFT made a deal to forestall firings, and Bloomberg simply didn't bother replacing teachers who left.

This might seem like a win-win, but it depends where you look and who you ask. For example, if you asked the folks at Tweed, the ones who place Children First, Always, they'll tell you this is the best of all possible worlds, we live in the best of all possible times, and our kids are in the best of all possible classrooms. I guess if you ignore Brexit, Trump, kids learning in closets, bathrooms, trailers, hallways and elsewhere, you might be in agreement.

But there's something that teachers on the ground see that the idealists haven't picked up on. The UFT Contract has not substantially changed on class size. In fact, it hasn't evolved in over half a century. But as far as I can see, maximum class size has pretty much become the norm. I have spent an awful lot of time with our 50-plus page master schedule this year. Classes are 34, 34, 34 and 34. Of course there are exceptions, particularly in gym and music, where they are 50, 50, and 50. And there are exceptions. You'll see 33, 32, 49 and 48. But they're now the exceptions.

Is it any wonder that we have thousands of oversized classes? I've spent all year fighting oversized classes in my school, and mine is far from the worst. Despite an arbitrator's ruling that all class sizes be fixed, when that proved to be too much trouble, we had a "compliance call." This resulted in extra teachers licensed in the subject area being assigned to assist. It's not ideal, but better than nothing. Yet still now, with only a handful of days left, not all classes are in compliance with even that modest demand.

At the UFT Executive Board, Unity members are outright indignant at any suggestion that our class size regs need improvement. They formed a committee, they say, they're discussing it, and that ought to be good enough for anyone. We gave up money for these class size regulations, they say, even though virtually no one in the room was teaching at the time these regulations were established.

Actually, the amount of money the Daily News bemoans is a relative drop in the bucket. If we're really gonna focus on what the public wants, we need look no further than the parent surveys, consistently ignored by the DOE. When offered the option, what public school parents want is lower class sizes. As a teacher, I couldn't agree more.

But what we end up getting from the people who muster the audacity to claim they put "Children First, Always," is education on the cheap. Pack 'em in, hope for the best, and blame the teachers if they fail. We have a cookie-cutter rubric to rate teachers and class size plays no part in it whatsoever.

Do you want to know who really places children first? First there are the parents. Those of us who actually send our kids to public schools care a lot about what goes on. Secondly, there are the teachers. Of course we care about learning conditions, if for no other reason than learning conditions are our teaching conditions. We get up every morning to serve these children, and for that we are treated like criminals by administrators and periodicals right up to the New York Times and our pussy-grabbing President.

If NYC wants value for its dollar, it will demand that newly-progressive Governor Cuomo cough up the money for class size reduction mandated by the CFE lawsuit, Otherwise, putting children first is nothing but more lip service.
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