Report: Number of Elementary School Students in Very Large Classes Has Skyrocketed Due to Budget Cuts in Recent Years

Report: Number of Elementary School Students in Very Large Classes Has Skyrocketed Due to Budget Cuts in Recent Years

As NYC teaching force has declined through attrition, the number of elementary school students in classes with 30 or more pupils has more than tripled since FY09.
The Mayor’s proposed FY13 budget would continue that trend. 

Brooklyn, NY – Today, New York City Council Member Brad Lander released a report that finds a startling increase of elementary school students in very large classes, due to budget cuts that have reduced the number of teachers in New York City public schools.The total number of teachers in New York City is the lowest it has been in nearly a decade. At the beginning of the school year there were slightly fewer than 74,000 teachers, compared with just under 80,000 in FY 2009 (the 2008–09 school year), a drop of 7%. Over the same period, student enrollment has increased slightly (2%).

As a result, the number of very large classes has soared. The number of general education students in first through fifth grade classes of 30 students or more has tripled from FY09 to FY12, with over 31,000 students now in such classes.  In some school districts, fewer than 1% of students were in very large classes in 2009; today, nearly 20% are.

“As the parent of a third grader in a NYC public school, I know that no one wants their young child in a classroom with 30 or more kids and just a solitary teacher,” said Council Member Brad Lander (Brooklyn).  “No matter how good the teacher, they just can’t provide enough individual attention to help all those students, at very different levels, learn to read, write, do basic math, nurture their creativity and citizenship.  We’ve got to get money in the budget to hire enough teachers so our younger students are in classes smaller than 30 kids.”

Download report here.

There were 9,756 students in first through fifth grade general education classrooms with 30 or more students in the 2008­–2009 school year.  Today, that figure is 31,079 students — a three-fold increase.

All grades have significantly more students in large classes, but the relative size of the increase has been particularly dramatic in younger grades.  In 2009, fewer than 1% of first, second, and third graders were in classes of 30 or more.  Over the last four years, there has been a more than ten-fold increase in this number.

"As legislators and advocates, we follow the details.  Even though there are no apparent layoffs in this year's City budget, this report shows what we all know: the proposed budget means there will be 1,100 fewer teachers, and class size will go up.  That's a fact that we must address,” said Council Member Robert Jackson (Manhattan), chair of the Council’s Committee on Education.

Research shows that larger class sizes hurt student achievement, particularly at lower grade levels.  Teacher attrition and classroom size are also linked.  New teachers consistently report that if they had smaller classes, they would be less overwhelmed and be able to keep their workloads at manageable levels — leading to higher rates of teacher retention.  And parents have reported that smaller class size is their number one priority in every DOE survey in recent years.

The impact of this increase has been particularly severe in several districts, where the number of students in classes of 30 or more went from fewer than 1% in 2009 to one-fifth of all elementary school students:

  • Community School District 31 (Staten Island) has seen the biggest jump in large classes size, to 20.6%,
  • Community School District 21 (Coney Island and Brighton Beach), to 18.9%,
  • Community School District 24 (Glendale, Ridgewood, Elmhurst, Maspeth, Middle Village and Corona), to 18.3%.

"This report confirms our worst fears. As teacher numbers decline, the number of overcrowded elementary school classes is steadily rising,” said Council Member Debi Rose (Staten Island). “It's hard for teachers to reach students in a ‘supersize’ classroom and it’s unfair to our youngsters. Moreover, this is happening along with the loss of many class aides as well.  Larger class sizes plus fewer school aids is a recipe for disaster - our children were promised better, and they deserve more, from our City's leadership."

"The schools in my district are woefully overcrowded,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras (Queens).  “In recent years, we have seen significant student population growth as new immigrants make these communities their home, but new school construction has not kept pace.  Now this report shows that budget cuts and teacher attrition have had a big impact as well.  In District 24, almost one in five elementary school children are in a class of thirty or more students.  It is simply unacceptable." 

Despite the importance of small class size and teacher retention, the Bloomberg Administration’s FY 2013 Preliminary Budget proposes to decrease funding in General Education Instruction by $184.7 million. This would result in the loss of 1,117 full-time teachers, and thousands more students in classes of 30 or more.

Key Findings:

Since 2009:

  • There are 5,300 fewer teachers working in New York City public schools — a 7% decline.
  • 21,300 more general education elementary school students are in classes with 30 or more children – a 218% increase (from 9,756 to 31,079).
  • There has been a 979% increase in the number of third graders in classes of 30 or more students.

The full report is available online at

The report was prepared by Councilmember Lander’s office, based on an analysis of the NYC Department of Education’s Class Size Reports.  Additional data was drawn from the NYC Independent Budget Office’s, New York City Public School Indicators: Demographics, Resources, Outcomes Annual Report 2011

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