Concerns mount that NYC won’t comply with law limiting classroom size

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By Dan Sears

As a new state law limiting class sizes in New York City’s public schools goes into effect, teachers, parents and advocates are warning that classes are getting larger, not smaller.

“The trends are going in the wrong direction,” Leonie Haimson, executive director of the group Class Size Matters, said Tuesday morning during a press conference organized by the city’s teachers’ union.

State lawmakers passed the law limiting class sizes last year, over the objections of Mayor Eric Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks, who called it an “unfunded mandate.”

Last week, the education department celebrated the first increase in enrollment at city public schools in the last eight years. But the figures also underscored the challenges facing the city as the class size law is phased in over five years starting this fall. Average class size increased across all grades compared to last school year, according to Haimson.

Haimson, who has long advocated for smaller classrooms, said the city is likely to be out of compliance with the law by next year. City officials have said they expect to be in compliance only for the first two years of the law.

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“It is just wrong,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said at the press conference outside the Brooklyn Landmark School, noting that some 300,000 students are in oversized classes.

But education department spokesperson Nicole Brownstein said the city will need more funding to comply with the law.

“We continue to call upon our partners in state and federal government to support us with additional funding,” she said.

Research has found a correlation between smaller class sizes and academic achievement, as well as student behavior.

The city’s Independent Budget Office has said the city would need to hire 17,700 teachers to meet the class size mandate, costing between $1.6 billion and $1.9 billion annually. And that’s just for personnel. The city will also have to identify additional space for smaller classrooms.

“Simple mathematics tells you that class size significantly affects the amount of time we as teachers spend with each small group, the number of times we can work closely with students one on one, the amount of feedback we can give,” said Andrea Castellano, a teacher at Brooklyn Landmark School. “Classrooms are calmer and everything feels less stressed.”

When the law is fully implemented, kindergarten through third grade classes will be capped at 20 students, fourth through eighth grade classes will be capped at 23 students, and high school classes will be capped at 25 students.

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For comparison, kindergarten classes were previously capped at 25 students, first through sixth grade classes were capped at 32 or 33 students, middle school at 30 to 33 students, and high school at 34 students.

This year, only 20% of classrooms had to meet the new limits, although the education department says 40% of classes are now in compliance.

Critics of the law worry it may disproportionately affect popular schools in affluent communities, limiting classes in schools that are considered desirable and thus overcrowded.

City officials have argued that the law will result in more funding to schools that already have more resources, at the expense of schools in poorer areas.

Mulgrew said the union’s research shows the law would help many schools that serve low-income communities. According to the union, in 665 high-poverty schools, at least 50% of classes this year exceeded the new class size limits.

At Brooklyn Landmark Elementary School in Brownsville, parent Beruryah Batyehuda said there were 29 children in her daughter’s first grade class, and 31 in the other first grade class at the school.

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“It’s impossible for my child to be heard, seen and share a love for learning with so many other voices and bodies in the room, all with the same eagerness to be heard, seen, and valued, and to learn,” she said. “How can this prepare our children for success?”

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