2006-02-10 / Columnists

Addabbo Pushes For Better Public School Education

“Crowded classrooms and temporary, non-standard and makeshift classrooms do not make for a quality learning environment for our children and can no longer be tolerated,” said Councilman Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., explaining why he was the co-sponsor of two pieces of legislation mandating changes in the City Charter which he believes would change the current situation in the city schools.  The Mayor has recently signed these bills into law.

Addabbo said he was appalled to learn that many of these “temporary classroom units” (TCUs) have been in place for more than 20 years.  In other schools multi-purpose or “cluster” rooms intended for art, music or science, have been converted into regular classrooms, depriving students of those facilities in an effort to squeeze more classrooms out of overcrowded school buildings.  In some cases, gymnasiums have been partitioned into classrooms when they are not otherwise in use.  In addition the Department of Education has opened new schools in converted warehouses and other buildings that are not ideally suited for classroom use.  “These non-standard classrooms are inferior to regular classrooms and our children should not have to learn in this environment,” said Addabbo.  “By converting these classrooms young students have witnessed a decrease in cultural and recreational opportunities.”

Intro 550-A, co-sponsored by Councilman Addabbo, requires the Department of Education to report to the City Council annually the number of temporary and non-standard classrooms in use in the City public school system by school, zip code, school district, instructional region, community district, council district and borough, as well as the number of children who attend classes in each such non-standard classroom.

“Smaller class sizes would also be a valuable component of improving the public schools,” said Addabbo. 

Class size reduction has been an important element of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit and is the position of advocacy groups such as Class Size Matters.  The City Council has funded early class size reduction programs for many years, as has New York State, and is currently promoting a proposal to limit class size in grades K through 8 to seventeen students.

Unfortunately, public information about actual class sizes is lacking.  State law does not set the applicable maximum class sizes in general education classes.   Instead, in New York City, the contract between the United Federation of Teachers and the Department of Education contains class size limitations that set the maximum class size.  However, these contractual limitations appear to be routinely violated.  Thus, it is impossible to pinpoint the maximum class size in New York City.  In addition, actual class size information is not reported to the public.

In addition to being incomplete and (at times) a year out of date, data provided by the Department of Education does not contain information about individual schools or grades within each school, and thus parents choosing among schools could not make a choice based on class size.  Nor would they be able to determine the extent of overcrowding and high-class size, or compare such sizes with other schools that have more, or less, crowded classrooms.  New York City policy makers, in turn, cannot determine whether class size is higher or lower in different boroughs, school districts or neighborhoods, information that would assist them in placing resources and performing oversight of the Department of Education’s efforts to reduce class size, including its spending of city money for class size reduction.

Addabbo said that these difficulties would be remedied if the Department of Education promptly reported detailed class size information to the Council and to the public.

Intro 619-A, also co-sponsored by Councilman Addabbo, would require the Department of Education to report average public school class sizes in each school twice annually to the Council per grade of each school district, region and borough, as well as citywide.  The law would also require the Department of Education to put the reports on its website.

“These two bills will help our children to get the quality education they deserve,” said Addabbo.”

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