Rising enrollments, combined with a new transfer option in NCLB that allows students to transfer out of failing schools, are causing classrooms in New York City to burst at the seams with 33 to 34 students per class in elementary schools, and five or more extra students per class in middle and high schools. In an effort to fight ever-increasing class size, a group composed of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), parents, and advocacy organizations successfully petitioned for a referendum on the issue that, if successful, would create a commission to decide whether class-size limits should be written into city law.
Essentially, the Nov. 4 ballot question asks New York City residents if they want to create a Charter Revenue Commission that would examine the class-size issue. The panel could then ask voters if they wanted to amend the city charter to include a limit on class size. In Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. the State of New York, the New York Court of Appeals has ruled that students in New York City were being denied their constitutional right to a sound basic education because their class sizes were found to be much larger than other classes around the state. According to a UFT survey of local union chapter leaders, more than 9,000 classes exceeded the class-size limits that were outlined in the union’s contract, which range from 25 students in kindergarten to 34 in high school.
Opponents of the class-size movement point to Florida as an example of what could happen in New York City with a cap on class size. In Florida, state officials are struggling to meet a voter-approved class-size amendment that restricts school class size. Critics claim that the amendment will eat away too much money from an already thin Florida state budget as well as force the state to put under-qualified teachers into some classrooms. The amendment requires that by 2010 Florida’s classrooms be limited to 18 children in pre-kindergarten through third grade, 22 children in grades four through eight, and 25 children in high school classes.
Supporters of the class-size limit argue that small schools and small classes are an effective and cost-efficient way to ensure more individualized attention and improvements in student achievement, especially for disadvantaged students. They also argue that smaller learning communities facilitate relationships between students and teachers, foster greater parental involvement, and result in fewer disciplinary problems.