2003-10-10 / Community

School Scope

Class Size Rears Its Ugly Head, Part I
By Norman Scott
School Scope By Norman Scott Class Size Rears Its Ugly Head, Part I

There are 3 major issues that determine quality education: Class size, class size and class size. Even Mayor Bloomberg, that paragon of reform, the man who wants so badly to "save" the children in NYC schools from the evil clutches of teachers and administrators from the pre BloomKlein school system, believes in small class size. For his own children, that is.

One of Bloomberg’s daughters went to the exclusive Spence School on the upper East side where the maximum number of children in most classes is 12-15. Maybe less. Entire grades at Spence are often less than 40 children, rivaling the size of a number of classes in New York City schools.

When it comes to class size for the children in the school system he is now in charge of, the Mayor, who says he expects all children to meet the same set of standards he expected his daughter to meet, has a double standard. Under BloomKlein management, unprecedented numbers of violations of the class size provisions of  the UFT contract (didn’t I tell you in my last column that the UFT contract protects children as well as teachers, at least when it is adhered to) have taken place. When New Yorkers for Smaller Class Size, a coalition of groups that includes the UFT, parent, and community groups presented the Mayor with 115,000 signatures of New Yorkers who wanted a referendum to create a commission to explore class size reduction to be placed on the November ballot, one would have expected the Mayor to leap for joy at the opportunity this would give the children of NYC to have the same opportunity for low class size his daughter had. 

Instead, he has attacked the UFT-led initiative as frivolous, while his team of lawyers were forcing the item off the November ballot. He did manage to say he supports the concept of lower class sizes but can’t afford it. Yeah! For the kids in the public schools, he can’t afford it. Talk is oh, so cheap. Let’s see him walk the walk. (And did I tell you he made a 7 figure donation to his daughter’s school? Bet that helped keep those class sizes down).

Now, I also have a couple of bones to pick with the UFT leadership. If the referendum were to fail, there is no Plan B. The UFT has abandoned  using contract negotiations to fight for reductions in class size, maintaining that such reductions will bite into salary increases. Though a majority of teachers seem to support this position, more and more UFT members are putting a greater value on teaching/learning conditions as being a crucial component of their working environment. It’s great to get a raise, but what is the real cost if you are so stressed out so you can’t enjoy it?

The story might have a happy ending yet. The Coalition went to court and, lo and behold, the Mayor was overturned and the initiative will be back on the ballot in November, unless the Mayor’s appeal (How much does that cost in legal fees?) is upheld. The creation of a commission to look into writing class size limits into the City Charter will be question No. 6 on the ballot on Nov. 4.  (Don’t forget to vote YES.)  If you still question whether small class sizes are effective, check out the web site:  http:// www.classsizematters.org/ for facts and figures. And also ask yourself why the Bloombergs of this world pay such high tuition and the people in Scarsdale pay all those school taxes to keep class sizes down for their own children?

When it comes to NYC, the Mayor feels it is better to give all the money to the corporations producing standardized curriculums. And while at it, why not throw more money around for all that staff development. Sure, that will solve the educational problems, as the message goes out:  "Yo, teachers. We will staff develop you to death to teach classes of 35 and you and your school will be branded failures (by our limited politically-driven standards) if you don’t succeed."

Sometimes I wonder if Bloomberg’s daughter was taught from the same standardized curriculum being imposed on the children and teachers of New York City. And were the teachers at Spence subjected to the same type of staff development NYC teachers have to go through? Were they truly "qualified" to teach Ms. Bloomberg? They must have done something right. She was able to get a job working for the City of New York.

Here’s a suggestion for Mr. Bloomberg: Come up with a few bucks, suspend the teaching certification requirements (as was done for Chancellor Joel Klein) and swap the entire staff at Spence with the staff of any of the "failing" schools under his management. How much money do you think it would take to get the teachers who taught his daughter at Spence, who generally make less than NYC teachers, to teach in one of BloomKlein’s factories?

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