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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Tue, Nov 27, 2007

CFE Releases "A Seat of One's Own Report" Analyzing Class Size Reduction in NYC's Lowest-Performing Schools

Achieving reduced class size for NYC's lowest-performing schools will require over 2,500 additional classrooms

A new report released today by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Inc. (CFE), the non profit organization leading the effort to protect and promote the constitutional right to a sound basic education in New York, found that 2,522 classrooms are needed to successfully achieve class size reduction in New York City’s lowest performing schools.

In light of the new education law and regulations requiring New York City to prioritize class size reduction in low performing and overcrowded schools, “A Seat of One’s Own: Class Size Reduction in the Lowest Performing Schools in New York City,” examined class size conditions in the 408 city schools indentified by the state as Schools In Need of Improvement (SINI) or Schools Requiring Academic Progress (SRAP). The study also found that 152 of these schools can immediately reduce class size within existing building space, while 43 others can use classrooms in neighboring underutilized school buildings to reduce class size.

The report called on the New York City Department of Education (DOE) to consider prioritizing class size reduction in the SINI/SRAP schools with existing capacity or through rezoning, while developing a plan for the other 122 SINI/SRAP schools that cannot benefit from existing or neighboring space. The study, which also factored in the impact of the City’s Capital Plan through the creation of new classrooms, also recommended that the DOE consider developing a long-term plan to reduce class sizes in SINI/SRAP schools at all grade levels, including Pre-K.

“After 14 years of litigation in the CFE lawsuit and one year into the reforms that resulted from CFE’s court victory, New York City students in low performing schools must begin to see reduced class sizes,” said Geri D. Palast, Executive Director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. “The study released today provides a roadmap for achieving this goal using common sense, and cost effective strategies that build on available and planned resources to address the need. Now, as New York City must develop the initial phase of the state required 5 year class size reduction plan, is the right time to consider these recommendations. “

Although the schools examined total one third of all public schools in the City, SINI/SRAP schools account for 42% enrollment citywide (436,888 students). “A Seat of One’s Own: Class Size Reduction in the Lowest Performing Schools in New York City” presents a detailed analysis of class size and enrollment data for each grade in each SINI/SRAP school, to the extent it was available, and determined how many classes are needed, to reduce class size at all grade levels Pre-Kthrough12. The targeted class sizes used are the state-wide averages (excluding New York City) for the 2000-2001 school year that were cited in the BRICKS proposal (Building Requires Immediate Capital for Kids) contained in CFE’s Facilities Report of April 2004 presented in the court proceedings.

“A Seat of One’s Own: Class Size Reduction in the Lowest Performing Schools in New York City” was released in a press conference held at the DOE/Tweed Building Steps. The United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), the Hispanic Federation, the New York Immigration Coalition, the Coalition for Educational Justice, and the Council of School Supervisors, among other organizations, joined in support.

"This is a giant step along the road towards the goal of reducing class size and overcrowding in our schools. CFE, by its careful and innovative analysis of the relationship between facilities and class size, has produced a set of common sense recommendations that highlight where we are and how much further we have to go. CFE has given us both a compass and a map. Let's get moving!," said Robert Jackson, chairperson of the New York City Council’s Committee on Education and CFE founder.

Randi Weingarten, President of the United Federation of Teachers, said: “Lowering class size is a crucial component of any meaningful strategy to improve academic performance in our schools. CFE, the organization that litigated the case that proved New York City school children were shortchanged, understands this and has now issued a report that can serve as a preliminary roadmap for how the Department of Education can accomplish that goal. As the report shows, the time for excuses and delay is over. We all know what needs to be done and we now have a guide showing how we can begin to do it using existing capacity. The State Education Department, using the new state law, wisely insisted that the DOE set goals for class sizes. And while we believe that any long-term effort must involve specific class size caps, not averages, last week the city committed to a class size plan and should use this CFE blueprint immediately to begin reducing them in struggling schools where space is available nearby.”

Major Findings

“A Seat of One’s Own: Class Size Reduction in the Lowest Performing Schools in New York City” found that 2,522 classrooms are needed to reduce class size in the 408 SINI/SRAP schools to the BRICKS class size standard.
* 62 SINI/SRAP schools are already at reduced class size.
* 52 SINI/SRAP schools can reduce class size with 537 available classrooms within their buildings.
* 43 SINI/SRAP schools can utilize 152 classrooms in neighboring schools to reduce class size through re-zoning.
* 122 SINI/SRAP schools still need 1,546 classrooms to reduce class size that can not be provided within existing capacity. The potential impact of the new schools funded in the Capital Plan would be to reduce the classrooms needed by 680.
* 866 additional classrooms will still be need after all the recommendations in this report have been implemented.
* 122 SINI/SRAP schools need 157 additional classrooms to expand pre-Kindergarten to a full day program for 4 year olds.
* 2 SINI/SRAP alternative high schools need additional classrooms to reduce class sizes. No strategy was recommended for these 2 schools given the special nature of the alternative high school programs.
* 27 SINI/SRAP have no class size data.

The report’s key recommendations include:

1. Develop a plan for reducing class sizes in the SINI/SRAP schools at all grade levels.

There is no systematic approach to reducing class size in City schools. DOE should consider developing a plan that targets SINI/SRAP schools as the highest priority for reducing class size and establishes targeted class sizes for all grade levels. DOE should consider conducting a school-by-school analysis of space availability and expansion possibilities based on student needs, special programs, and support services.

2. Reduce class sizes in SINI/SRAP schools with available classrooms.

Supported by the increased State Operating Aid, the DOE should consider reducing class sizes in the 152 SINI/SRAP schools with currently available space. Implementation planning to reduce class size within existing space at these schools could begin immediately.

3. Identify available space in community school districts and high schools to create a space sharing plan to reduce class sizes in SINI/SRAP schools that need additional classrooms.

There are another 43 schools the report identifies that are either overcrowded or have limited available capacity to reduce class size. The analysis in this report suggests a space-sharing plan within the community school district and at the district level for the high schools. CFE acknowledges the difficulties that this approach represents. However, DOE should consider examining and utilizing its existing space inventory to maximize its educational use. A number of strategies will be necessary to implement a comprehensive space sharing plan, including: evaluating space allocation of multiple organizations occupying the same building, evaluating non-school uses, re-zoning, capping enrollments, grade reconfigurations, creation of annexes and creation of programs to re-distribute students.

4. Target capital plan projects to reduce class sizes in the SINI/SRAP schools.

The DOE’s data reporting on the progress on the Capital Plan capacity program shows that 52,260 seats, of the 63,300 planned, are still not completed and are projected to come on line beginning in 2008. This report identifies a need for an estimated additional 1,546 classrooms beyond any opportunities to use existing capacity and also identifies a potential of 680 classrooms in new schools that could benefit the SINI/SRAP schools.

5. Identify the SINI/SRAP schools that need longer-term space strategies.

This report concludes that there will still be a need for 866 additional classrooms in some community school districts and high schools after all of the strategies recommended in this report are implemented. Most of the additional space needs occur in currently overcrowded districts, such as Districts 6, 10, 24 and the high schools. As DOE initiates the planning process for its next capital plan, it should consider prioritizing the needs of the SINI/SRAP schools.

6. Develop a plan for a full day pre-Kindergarten program for 4 year olds in the SINI/SRAP schools.

The half-day universal pre-kindergarten program already exists in 81 of the 122 SINI/SRAP elementary schools. The DOE should consider developing a plan that establishes projected enrollments in all SINI-SRAP elementary schools, undertake a space analysis to implement this program in the public schools and work with outside providers to assist in the expansion of their facilities to accommodate this program.

7. Issue a semi-annual report on plan goals and benchmarks in reducing class size in the SINI/SRAP schools.

A semi-annual report could provide all stakeholders with the plan to reduce class sizes for the new school year and a follow up report, issued during the school year, could show how well the plan worked in implementing strategies to reduce class size. This follow-up report could be important to identify what worked, what benchmarks were or were not met, and could also assist in formulating goals for the following school year.

Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, chairperson of the New York State Assembly’s Committee on Education, said: “As a long time supporter of the CFE I am disappointed by the City’s slow pace in reducing class size. This report has exposed the shortcomings of the DOE plan for class size reduction. I am ecstatic that a portion of the 408 neediest schools have the space capacity to reduce class size immediately. But it is unacceptable that students at other low performing schools will remain in overcrowded classrooms while DOE muddles through the quagmire of rezoning and building share-plans. The shocking part is that this is the good news, as yet another portion of the 408 neediest schools do not have space within nor can they share space with adjacent buildings through rezoning. I call on the Mayor and the DOE to make finding space solutions for these schools a priority, and without further delay; while time is wasted on discussion and debate another year passes quickly by and another group of students is shortchanged.”

Ernest Logan, President of the Council of School Supervisors: "Our students are the City's most precious resource, and providing them with a safe and nurturing learning environment is a top priority for school leaders. My members know that any meaningful advancement of initiatives such as lowering class size can only happen after we have improved our infrastructure through considerable renovations and new construction. The CFE recognizes this and has done a wonderful job laying out a roadmap of specific and thoughtful recommendations for some of our high-needs schools. We should accept nothing less than the best of conditions for our schools, and I urge the DOE to consider these proposals."

Billy Easton, Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education: “School reform has moved from the courts and the legislature into our school buildings. Today CFE has shown the need to prioritize class size reduction in the lowest performing schools making best use of current resources and the city's capital plan. CFE has shown that there is space available in many of the city's highest need schools that could be used to reduce class size immediately. The Contract for Excellence must be a tool to ensure that DOE is using this space to reduce class size in these high need schools. The building space is there, the CFE funding provides the resources to put teachers in these classrooms, and the city has the ability to reduce class sizes in these schools.”

“A Seat of One’s Own: Class Size Reduction in the Lowest Performing Schools in New York City” aims to inform the State Education Commissioner’s response to the DOE’s class size reduction plan; educate and inform the class size panel to be appointed by the State Education Commissioner per the legislation which will set class size reduction target ranges and to inform the panel about the significant capital needs in New York City; inform the development of the City’s next five year capital plan for the schools; and, guide policymakers in their decision-making about the use of and additional need for capital funds. For a copy of the report the public can call 212-867-8455 or visit

Founded in 1993 by a group of parents and education advocates, CFE filed and won the landmark CFE v. State of New York lawsuit that challenged the state's school finance system which under-funded New York City schools, denying its students their constitutional right to a sound basic education. The court defined a sound basic education as a meaningful high school education that prepares students for competitive employment and civic participation. CFE worked with a broad-based coalition to turn the lawsuit into law with the Education Budget and Reform Act of 2007-08 which will benefit all public school students throughout New York State.

CFE now works to secure full funding and implementation of the massive school finance and accountability reforms, to ensure transparency and adequate information to measure academic progress, and secure meaningful public participation in the development of education programs and policies. A non-profit organization, CFE’s mission is to protect and promote the constitutional right to a sound basic education for all students in New York, prioritizing the highest need students in the lowest performing schools across the state.

Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
CFE Litigation CFE v. State of New York
In 2006, after 13 years in the Courts, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed the right of every public school student in New York to the opportunity for a sound basic education and the state’s responsibility to adequately fund this right, but deferred to the Governor and the Legislature to determine the appropriate amount. more >