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New York Educators Think Small for Big Academic Gains

November 28, 2007

New York - Size does matter, especially in the classroom. That's why a coalition of education advocates has announced a plan to reduce student overcrowding in New York City's most underachieving schools. Their new study, "A Seat of One's Own," presents a detailed strategy for reducing class size in the city's 408 lowest-performing schools to improve academic performance. Geri Palast with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity says the report is one of the first major steps in implementing New York State's $440 million "Contracts for Excellence" announced last week by Governor Spitzer.

"Our study provides a roadmap for the city of New York as to how they can practically tackle the issues of class size reductions in low-performing schools in a common-sense way."

Classroom size reduction is one of several proven academic strategies embodied in the "Contracts for Excellence," which originated in a lawsuit for academic equality in New York State filed 14 years ago by Palast's organization.

The study notes that half of the city schools already have enough easily convertible classroom space; others can rezone and expand into nearby schools. However, capital investment will be needed to create more than 2,000 new classrooms. Palast says much of the cost has already been covered by the state.

"In 2006, the legislature actually did approve $11.2 billion for New York City to help finance their $13 billion capital plan. So at least the money can be, in part, designated for this purpose."

Palast says improvements in academic and career performance make the capital investment worthwhile, because it's ultimately an investment in our kids.

"Kids who learn in smaller classes perform better, and once they 'learn to learn' at an early stage, do better. You need to combine class size reduction with quality teaching, but it's a critical element in looking at the total picture of school reform."

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity report is available at www.cfequity.org.

Robert Knight/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - NY