New data from the city’s education department show average public school classes are smaller this year. The news comes as educators and parents are pushing the City Council to move forward on legislation that would require the city to shrink class sizes even further in the coming years.
According to the new data, classes are, on average, more than 5% smaller this year compared to pre-pandemic data from 2019-20. The education department attributes the reduction to a pilot program to reduce classes at 72 schools, as well as an increase in funding at many schools resulting from an infusion of state money and federal stimulus dollars.
But the reduction also comes against the backdrop of declining public school enrollment. Enrollment is down more than 6% compared to 2019-20.
“We have a longstanding commitment to smaller class sizes and this preliminary report shows the results of the investments we’ve made in class size reduction, including $18 million in funding to bring smaller classes to high needs schools,” said education department spokesperson Katie O’Hanlon. “This is one of the largest decreases in class size on record and we’re grateful to our partners in the Council for working with us to help make this happen.”
It is worth noting that the education department figures are averages, and some schools remain far more crowded than others.
Parents and educators have been lobbying for smaller class sizes for decades, emphasizing that research shows smaller classes boost students’ academic outcomes and narrow achievement gaps. Some schools have held rallies in support of the new legislation in recent days, arguing that shrinking classes is no longer just an educational issue, but a health imperative given the need for social distancing during the pandemic. The bill would require more square footage per student.
"If they're worried about what the impact, the long term effects will be on school funding on the health of the system in general, then they should be reducing class size anyway, in order to bring people back into the system," said Leonie Haimson, executive director of the group Class Size Matters.
According to the United Federation of Teachers union, the latest version of the new law could bring average classrooms down to 14-21 students for 3k, pre-k and kindergarten classes; 15-23 students for elementary and middle school classes; and 17-26 for high school students—depending on the size of the room. Currently, kindergarten classes are capped at 25 students, 1st- to 6th-grade classes at 32 students, and high school classes at 34 students.
"While smaller classes are a good thing, even these modest declines -- which closely track the overall enrollment loss -- are far from the dramatic reductions we need to help ensure the safety and the academic progress of our students," said UFT spokesperson Alison Gendar in a statement.
Haimson said the current enrollment trends seem to bolster the feasibility of smaller class sizes. "If these sorts of class sizes persist, it certainly would make it much cheaper and easier to achieve the goals in the legislation which, you know, the DOE has cried wolf and said would be too expensive and too impossible to achieve," she said.
With Sophia Chang