NYC Audit Reveals Enormous School Overcrowding Problems

A recent audit by city Comptroller Scott Stringer found that almost 1,500 of New York City’s public school buildings were overcrowded during 2012.  School officials produced no plan on how to deal with the problem.

One-third of the city’s elementary schools were at 138% capacity that year.  The New York Daily News reports that the Department of Education’s official census, the Blue Book, “misled” the auditors because the it did not count thousands of students who were housed in temporary trailers.

The Independent Budget Office and the advocacy group Class Size Matters have been warning that overcrowding was taking place and Stringer’s audit verifies that claim.  Stringer identified that the 50 most overcrowded schools averaged 167% capacity.

Authur Goldstein, English as a second language teacher at Francis Lewis High School for 20 years, attests that the crowding made teaching extremely difficult.  Elijah Roberts, 18, of Midwood High School said that desks and chairs had to be pulled in from other classrooms because there were 30 to 40 kids in all his classes.

Stringer concluded that the Department of Education’s Division of Space and Planning and its Office of Portfolio Management failed to do their jobs.  Many teachers and parents say that the Portfolio Management office was fixated on closing public schools and opening new charter schools.  Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña quietly eliminated the office in the last few weeks and transferred it to a new Division of District Planning.

The office will manage the planning of New York City district schools, charter schools, and early childhood education programs.  It will also manage critical intervention for persistently under-performing schools.  The Division’s coordinated efforts will align the needs of the students with available resources to improve outcomes.

CBS New York says that Stringer said the Department of Education did not address the problem.

“That is why this audit is so significant because it looks at what wasn’t done. There was no planning, there was no documentation, no formal plan about how to alleviate classroom overcrowding,” Stringer told 1010 WINS. “And I think every parent would agree that class size matters.”

He added that five schools had more than double the amount of capacity.  Carmen Fariña says the 2015-2019 capital plan will create tens of thousands of new classroom seats.

Does class size matter?  The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado thinks that it does and says so in its policy brief by Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern University.  When considering the body of research on the matter as a whole, there are specific recommendations that emerge, says Schanzenbach.

- All else being equal, increased class size can harm student outcomes.

- Evidence suggests that increased class size will harm student’s test scores and all of the competencies, attributes, skills, abilities, and performances that embody the ability to perform labor in order to produce economic value.

- It is likely that decreasing class size for low-income and minority students has a greater payoff.  Increase in class size, reversely, will harm these groups more.

- Although increasing class-size can be an economic gain for policymakers, decreasing class-size may be more cost-effective overall.