We Need Lower Class Sizes Yesterday

The NYC class size reductions can’t come soon enough for me, and almost certainly won’t. Right now I’m finding it particularly egregious that English Language Learners are dumped into the default of 34 per class. I have one difficult class that I’ve already written about, and I’m slowly identifying exactly why it has these issues. 

Yesterday I got a new student with absolutely zero knowledge of English. Hello was a mystery to him. I sat with him a few minutes, trying to help him with the very basic work we were doing, but I had 28 other students I had to keep a close eye on. Within the next two weeks, I’m sure we will hit 34. Because of nothing more sinister than random grouping, this will be a very tough class. I’ll complain, but my new students will have a much tougher time of it than I will.

This year, I’m moving more slowly than I have before. One reason is this class, as it requires more time for every activity. Another, of course, is that I want to include as many kids as possible before I give an assessment. I don’t see a test in the cards for these kids for another week or two. In any case, I have twenty sections right now, and the crap DOE grading program is borderline impossible to navigate.

If I were Chancellor Soaring Eagle, there are a few things I would do differently than he does. For one thing, I wouldn’t place people accused of sexual improprieties in key positions. I’d fix the crappy DOE grading software. I’d also reopen all the staff cafeterias and serve actual food that people, you know, eat. But there are other obvious things that desperately need looking at.

The biggest one, of course, is class size. It hasn’t been reduced in well over half a century, and hey, times change. Of course, Mayor Swagger thinks 400 kids in online classes would be just fine. His mentor, Mike Bloomberg wanted to fire half of us and leave the rest in classes of 70. I teach high school, and I’d cap class size at 25. I’d cap it at 15-20 for ELLs, particularly those just beginning. 

The NY Post and Daily News editorial boards can rant and cry, but the fact is that’s the only thing I know, and the only thing many parents and experienced teachers know that really improves the quality of education. Standardized tests are crap, and judging teachers by them is an abomination. My kids have been here for five minutes, and it’s outlandish to determine I’m a terrible teacher, or a good one, or even fair-to-middling, based on scores that indicate I have no idea what.

We now have in place a plan to slowly pare down class sizes. I’d love to see it work, even delayed by a year, but somehow it seems to good to be true. The CFE lawsuit, if I recall correctly, started maybe thirty years ago. Somehow NYC has managed to slip away no matter what was decided. We have to keep a close eye on all the slippery politicians that will slither past us in these coming years.

You can take this to the bank–Any politician opposing lower class sizes in Fun City does not give a golly gosh darn about the children here. There are a million of them, and the only way we can reach them is if we get time with them. We haven’t got nearly enough with the ludicrous class sizes we’re saddled with. 

In fact, it was only very recently that UFT made an agreement with the city that ensured far fewer oversized classes. Before there was an agreement to have superintendents oversee class sizes, I was going to hearings twice a year to grieve them. Even when we “won,” there were ridiculous settlements, like you keep teaching forty kids, but you get one day a week off from your C6 assignment. That helped nothing and no one. Now, miraculously, principals who don’t want superintendent problems manage to get all classes to meet the very low standard we have.

That’s far from enough, though. We really need to make sure this legislation is enforced. If it isn’t, we should align with parents, students, community members, and everyone else and surround City Hall with torches and pitchforks. Nothing else will do, and however soon we do it, it won’t be soon enough.

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