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Class Size in New York City Classrooms Still A Top Concern



EMILY PISACRETA, HOST: How many kids should be in each New York City classroom? That’s been the subject of debate in the city for decades. And it was the subject of a packed hearing at City Hall this morning, where several dozen education activists argued the city and state need to do more to shrink the size of classrooms throughout the city. Janmaris Perez reports.


JANMARIS PEREZ, BYLINE: It’s a quarter past ten and in the City Hall committee room, activists, parents, and former teachers are sitting elbows to elbows. A few times, a guard makes a futile attempt to quiet the crowd.


(SOUND: GUARD ASKS CROWD TO QUIET DOWN)


PEREZ: In a way, the commotion mirrors one of the very issues being discussed this morning. Despite previous efforts, New York City class sizes are still among the largest in the state. And that’s troubling for Tanesha Grant, a parent of a 7th grader.


TANESHA GRANT: He’s having a hard time with the English Language Arts curriculum. So I have to do what I have to do as a mother to help him with his homework, but if we had smaller class sizes and more teachers, and diverse teachers, that could help him break down the language. I don’t know why I can see that as a parent and people that are in office, I have to explain it to.


PEREZ: A representative from the city’s Department of Education said that shrinking class size, though a priority for the city, can’t happen without additional support from New York State, and that current class sizes are actually below what’s specified in the city’s contract with the union that represents teachers. But Councilman Mark Treyger, the chair of the City Council’s Committee on Education, said this isn’t just a state issue.


MARK TREYGER: Even in this difficult budget season, we all need to continue the struggle for adequate state funding for our schools. At the same time, we can't let the city off the hook. We have to hold everyone accountable for their efforts, or lack thereof to make progress on class size reduction, particularly for our most disadvantaged students who benefit most from smaller classes.


PEREZ: ...disadvantaged students, like English language learners, students with special needs, and low-income, minority students, who struggle the most in larger class settings. Class Size Matters, which testified at the hearing, wants the city to spend $100 million dollars of the Department of Education’s budget to hire 1,000 new teachers next year. Miriam Aristy-Farer is a member of the group.


MIRISM ARISTY-FERER: I mean, at the end of the day, we have enough money for luxury housing, why don't we have enough money for public schools?


PEREZ: But shrinking class size alone shouldn’t be considered a magic bullet to solve all the city’s education issues, says Dr. Jeffrey Young. He’s a professor at Columbia’s Teacher’s College.


DR. JEFF YOUNG: Simply changing the math and saying, "Okay, we're gonna have 15 Kids instead of 25." If the quality of instruction does not take advantage of that reduction of class size, it's not going to make much of a difference.


PEREZ: He says class size becomes important when it gives teachers the chance to connect with students one on one. It’s about creating the conditions under which teachers can do their best teaching, so that students can do their best learning.


Janmaris Perez, Columbia Radio News.


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