Rebell Op-Ed: Rush to slash class size will hurt our schools
By Michael Rebell
Posted in NY Daily News on Monday, April 23rd 2007
After 14 years of litigation,
New York City and 50 or so other districts slated to receive a large infusion must agree to a "Contract for Excellence" - which requires them to provide details on how they will spend the money in the five arenas that are considered most likely to improve student performance: improving the quality of teachers and principals; reducing class sizes; increasing student "time-on-task"; restructuring middle and high schools; and providing kindergarten or pre-K for the full day.
It's a good plan of action, but unfortunately the legislature tacked on an additional mandate, at the urging of the teachers union and others. That requires
This seemingly benign mandate could, in fact, turn the Contract for Excellence into a recipe for failure.
As co-counsel for those who brought the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, I know how important class size reduction ultimately will be. But improving the quality of our teachers and principals must be priority No. 1. And a premature class-size reduction mandate is likely to lower the general quality of the teaching staff at a time when we desperately need to be raising it.
A few years ago,
Without a doubt, if in
This raises another major concern. A mandated average class-size reduction plan is likely to be applied across the board to virtually all schools in the system, while it is clear that we should, at least at first, target the students with the greatest education deficits. Let's not forget that it was for them that the CFE case was waged and won, and that the Court of Appeals invalidated the old funding system to ensure that funding follows need.
When they meet tomorrow, the Board of Regents should approve regulations that allow class-size reductions to be limited to low-performing schools and to follow improvements in teacher quality and the availability of adequate space.
The chancellor should then sponsor a series of meaningful public engagement forums to give the city as a whole a chance to weigh in on the class-size plan - and on all of his other ideas for spending the CFE funds. All New Yorkers have a vital stake in how this money is going to be used, and public support is essential for implementation of the final plan, whatever form it takes.