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Brooklyn Parents Question City's Plan For Smaller Classes

A big contention among education advocates is the adoption of virtual classes in order to reduce the size of a class.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Department of Education Chancellor David C. Banks on June 24, 2024.

As the public school year closes for students on Wednesday, some Brooklyn education advocates wonder whether children will be returning to a smaller classroom in the fall. 

Department of Education officials are implementing the Class Size Reduction Plan, which mandates all city public schools to reduce their class sizes to no more than 20 students in grades K–3, 23 students in grades 4–8, and 25 students in high school over the next five years. 

As per the Class Size Law, signed by Governor Kathy Hochul on September 2022, the draft plan for the 2024-2025 school year was revealed by Mayor Eric Adams and Chancellor David Banks in late May.

The plan for the next phase includes giving principals a choice between five implementation strategies to help reduce class sizes, including hiring new staff and utilizing online learning. There is an intention to hire 10,000 - 12,000 teachers and for the DOE to collaborate with the School Construction Authority to create more needed space. 

This plan is still a draft because the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators, both unions, have not yet approved it. But it is stirring up concerns among advocates and parent leaders around Brooklyn.

Leonie Haimson, the founder of the nonprofit Class Size Matters and a member of the working group advising the chancellor, believes the newest plan is "inadequate."

"It only puts about $137 million into hiring more teachers, which would only hire about 1,300 teachers," Haimson said, despite the fact that the DOE is saying they need more than 10,000 teachers over the next four years. 

"I think a rational plan would put the money forward to hire a quarter of the teachers they're going to need every year," rather than leave it towards the end of the five-year plan, she said.

Haimson also said Banks is ignoring the proposals, which include, among other things, capping enrollment at lower grades at overcrowded schools, made by the working group, despite appointing it. 

The four Brooklyn Community Education Councils (CEC) also passed resolutions urging the mayor and the chancellor to adopt the working group's recommendations in order to comply with the law. 

Jordan Feigenbaum, a member of CEC13, said the DOE will likely not make much progress to reduce class sizes. 

"The resolution called for them to effectively do their jobs," Feigenbaum said, referring to the mayor and chancellor. "In this instance, they were dragging their feet. Our resolution was effectively looking to hold their feet to the fire."

CEC21 President Jay Brown said the lack of compliance could lead to more problems.

"Every year, there's a new, higher threshold that they need to meet as it's phased in," Brown said, noting the difficulty in reducing class sizes every year through 2028 unless significant investments and planning are made. 

One surprising aspect of the draft plan was the inclusion of virtual learning. Nathan Holbert, an associate professor of Communication, Media and Learning Technology Design at Teachers College, Columbia University, is skeptical of how effective this will be.

"I feel like that [is] a majorly problematic solution to a difficult problem about class sizes," he said. "I think what people misunderstand about learning's actually a rich, social, highly cultural experience. All of those things can be impoverished in an online setting."

Haimson shared a similar belief, saying remote learning diminishes the point of smaller classes. Both Feigenbaum and Brown also said it is not a solution.

In a statement, DOE Deputy Press Secretary Jenna Lyle said: “We are in compliance with the law and we continue to work with our union partners on implementation. Our draft comprehensive plan aims to ensure continued compliance with class size regulations and further enhance the learning environment across the city."

Lyle also said that virtual learning is one of many tools that will be used to reduce class sizes and 19 high schools already use it. She added the DOE has given additional funding to support teacher hiring.