Parents, teachers and students testify about the importance of reducing class size

On Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, parents, students, educators and advocates testified on the importance of reducing class size at City Hall hearings of the NYC Education Committee, chaired by Council Member Mark Treyger. Below are videos and links to written statements of some of these testimonies. You can watch the full unedited video of these hearingsĀ  here.

Regent Kathy Cashin testifies that when she was Superintendent of District 23 in Brooklyn, she reduced class size, and this completely transformed her schools, causing them to make the greatest gains in achievement in the entire city. She says that when you reduce class size, the “whole world changes” for both students and teachers.

Lorraie Forbes and Tiffani Torres, high school students from Teens Take Charge, speak out about how their experience of large classes caused them to struggle and miss out on the chance to excel. As Lorraie put it, “I feel as if my fellow students and I are being robbed of the opportunity to be as big as we can be.”

Curtis D. Young, member of CB12 Youth and Education Committee and Executive Director of Artistic Noise, a juvenile justice nonprofit, testifies that large class sizes contribute to high suspension rates and the school-to-prison pipeline for young black boys.

Shino Tanikawa, a NYC public school parent leader, member of the Fair Student Funding task force, and member of the School Diversity Advisory Group, speaks about how the DOE’s funding system incentivizes principals to overcrowd their schools and classrooms. She points out that for integration to be truly successful, class sizes should be small to allow teachers to reach their students whatever their backgrounds, both culturally and academically.

Karen Sprowal, a NYC parent, explains how her son struggled in his public school because of the large class sizes. She finally transferred him to a private school with smaller classes, costing the city $93,000 in tuition per year. As Karen put it, Even as class size reduction may be costly, I would like the DOE and our elected officials to think about the costs of NOT lowering class size.”

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, describes how PS 25, a small school in Bed Stuy, outperforms the city average in achievement, even though it is composed of 100% students in poverty, 31% with disabilities, and 22% homeless. How? It has very small class sizes and thus acts as a natural experiment for what class size reduction could achieve in the city as a whole.

Lori Podvesker, director of education policy at INCLUDEnyc, explores how important smaller classes are for students with disabilities, a teacher’s ability to provide student-centered instruction, and effective classroom management.

Elsie McCabe Thompson, President of the NYC Mission Society, testifies how students in poverty experience trauma; they badly need small classes so they can receive sufficient attention and emotional support from their teachers. Moreover, teachers cannot authentically have higher expectations for a student they don’t really know.

Randi Levine, project director at Advocates for Children of New York, testifies that families, especially those with English Language Learners and children with disabilities, worry about how their children will get the attention they need. Children can slip through the cracks more easily in large classes, and without targeted intervention they will fall further and further behind.

Alexa Aviles, NYC public school parent and PTA president, who describes her own community where hundreds of English Language Learners and students with disabilities struggle in large classes, comparing it to trying to learn while in Times Square during New Year’s Eve.

Jessica Siegel, retired Associate Professor of Education, English, and Journalism, who recounts her experience as a former high school teacher. She emphasizes the need for smaller classes, explaining how little time teachers have with individual students to give critical feedback when class sizes are so large.

Diana Cruz, Director of Education Policy at the Hispanic Federation, testifies for the need for more teachers to address the needs of multi-language learners in these large classes. These students make up almost 50% of the student population and show high dropout rates, but there is a 10% shortage of qualified teachers across the state.

Johanna Garcia, Chief of Staff for Senator Robert Jackson and candidate for City Council, explains that the failure to lower class sizes perpetuates educational racism, because this effects a student population that is 85% black and brown, and predominantly working class.

Evie Hantzopoulos, Executive Director of Global Kids, testifies for the need to see humanity in education, and explains that one way to do that is to lower class size. This allows for relationships between students and culturally responsive teachers to grow. She also explains that this is a social justice issue given the student population and systemic racism that has existed here.


There were additional testimonies in the full video, and some who wanted to testify at City Hall were unable to.. Here are links to their written testimonies:

  • Kathy Park Price, NYC parent and founder of Citizen Squirrel, who talks about her daughter’s experience with falling behind on her reading level. She was fortunate enough to have small classes, and therefore her teachers were able to get her reading back on track, something that couldn’t have happened in a larger class.
  • Kemala Karmen, co-founder of NYC Opt Out, deputy director of NYCpublic, and public school parent, who describes her children’s experience in a progressive school that’s only downside was its large class sizes, which were at the contractual limits. It made learning difficult, field trips unsafe, and her children looked forward to days when several classmates would be absent so they’d get more attention from the teacher.
  • Senator Brad Hoylman, testifying that this issue is not just a primary concern for his constituents, but also a personal matter for himself as a parent of two young daughters in public school. Small class sizes are part of a “sound, basic education” to which all students are entitled.
  • Nadden, Eden, and Peter, three students from St. Luke’s private school offered their testimony. Nadden transferred from a public school, but has felt the benefits of small class sizes their whole life, and believes every student should experience that. Eden transferred from a charter school where classes had at least 30 students, making it difficult to learn and get attention from the teacher. Peter has always attended private school, and recognizes that it shouldn’t be so hard to accomplish the goal of providing all NYC students with the education they deserve.
  • Esther Brunner, mother of a Kindergarten student, who describes the difficulties of transitioning from Pre-K to Kindergarten given the large difference in student-teacher ratio. Teachers are key adults in children’s lives, but their ability to give attention and nurture in such large classes is limited.
  • Emily Hellstrom, CEC D2 chair of the Students with Disabilities Committee, who testifies about the numerous families who have students with disabilities who needs smaller classes to receive the structured help they need. This is also an issue of equity that can be boiled down to one word: Racism. There is a school-to-prison pipeline and they way to end it is to put money where it matters most: class size.
  • Paullette Healy, NYC parent and CCSE member, describes the struggle of students with learning disabilities who can’t get the attention they need to succeed, as well as the frustrations of teachers who can’t provide a proper education to these students because of their overcrowded classrooms.
  • Joshua Aronson, professor of psychology and education at NYU, testified for the need of “smallness” in schools, where the “aim is the create a sense of community where people care about and cooperate with one another.” He describes an elementary school as an example where small class size showed improved achievement, reduced negative effects of race and gender, and improved relationships.
  • Jacqueline Shannon, Associate Professor and Dept. Chair of Early Childhood Education and Art Education at Brooklyn College, discusses the letter she and 70 other professors signed and sent to the chancellor warning that the increases in class size since 2007 threatened to undermine the gains expected from the expansion of pre-K. There was no response to this letter from the chancellor.
  • Daniel Katz, teacher educator, Chair of the Dept. of Educational Studies at Seton Hall University, and NYC public school parent, describes the difference between schools that have the capacity to fund raise to supplement their budgets and have smaller class sizes, and schools that don’t have this ability and as a result suffer from large class sizes that hinder students’ ability to learn.


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