2007-07-20 / Community

Klein Defends Class Size Reduction Plans

Wave Reporter Gets Scoop At DOE Press Conference
by Norman Scott

Facing severe criticism over his plan to spend the money coming to the NYCDOE from the CFE (Campaign for Fiscal Equity) lawsuit, Chancellor Joel Klein has mounted a rigorous defense. Detailed presentations were made at the monthly Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) meeting on July 16 on the much criticized plans to reduce class size but this did not prevent Manhattan's panel member Patrick Sullivan from voting against the plan, or Queens' panel member Michael Flowers from abstaining. The other members of the panel approved the plan.

At a sparsely attended press roundtable held the next day, Klein went into some detail on a controversial aspect in his class-size reduction plan: to create 400 collaborative/team teaching classrooms that will consist of a 60/40 percent split of regular education students and special education students, with two teachers in the room specializing in each of these models. Klein forcefully made the point that the two-teacher model will certainly mean a class-size reduction for the regular ed children.

Due to low attendance from the major dailies, AWave reporter had an opportunity to engage in a give and take with the chancellor on this issue. Will there be a paraprofessional, or "para," included, as there are currently in many special ed classes? "Only if the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) of a student calls for it," said Klein. These paras are known as management paras, directed at a particular child and not as general paras in the classroom. For some special ed students used to two adults in the classroom, this plan may not result in an improved ratio. Klein said that this collaborative model has worked very well in some schools, but did not give any specifics. Some Long Island districts have instituted a similar model to some success but an aide or para is often added to the mix.

"Did he expect some parents of the non-special ed students to complain about their children being placed with special ed students?" I asked. "Hey, this is New York, what would you expect?" he responded. I followed up with a question about class size caps. "Around 25," he said. Another reporter raised the point that this sounds more like a great model for mainstreaming, not necessarily reducing class size. Klein said that in a class of 25, for both the 15 non-special ed and the 10 special ed students, this would be such a reduction.

The reporter raised the point that all groups, including the union, parent groups and the DOE seem to agree on one point: increasing the number of schools will be necessary to accomplish serious class-size reduction. If he feels this collaborative model of two teachers in a room can be successful, why not try it across the board in schools that are deemed to be failing, by inundating the school with extra teachers instead of just closing them down? He responded that each school has to be looked at individually.

Throughout the press conference and at the PEP meeting, Klein reiterated the point that just about every decision, from instruction to major policy initiatives, is data driven. The accumulation and analysis of data has been the heart of the extensive restructuring of the system, but critics have claimed that the data has been focused to support the Chancellor's programs.

At the PEP meeting, panel member Richard Menschel, a Bloomberg appointee, asked Klein if there have been any studies on the impact class size has on instruction. Klein responded that the studies have been mixed and emphasized that teacher quality was the prime factor in effective instruction, not class size. As part of a two-minute presentation the public is allowed, I was able to respond that all one had to do was look at the class sizes in Long Island and Scarsdale and at the exclusive private schools where parents pay $30,000 a year, basically for lower class sizes.

At the press conference, I was able to bring up a question on Klein's emphasis on teacher quality. Since he was so data driven, where is the data that points to what makes an effective teacher, especially since he wants to pay teachers based on merit? Or is it just a case of "you know one when you see one?"

I pointed to informal exit polls I had taken from teachers leaving the system and with private school teachers who choose to work for less pay rather than work in public schools. They point to three factors: high class size, the overemphasis on testing and the inability to control what happens in their classrooms. Are the conditions in the schools preventing the ability to attract quality, experienced teachers?

He responded in some detail, pointing to schools that have hundreds of applicants for every open position, while other schools have a great deal of trouble recruiting teachers. Teachers want to work where they are respected, where there are good conditions and where they are paid based on the effort they put in. "An effective teacher is one that gives the children a full year's worth of instruction," he concluded.

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