The Dept of Ed is making it hard to understand the class size jump

By now we all get it, I think, that class sizes really are up since last year. I entered today with high hopes of being able to attack one of the big questions this raises: How could that have happened, considering the state poured $150 million into the school system this year for the sole purpose of making class sizes go down? Unfortunately, it turns out there’s one big obstacle to answering this question.

The DOE did release figures on both how much each school pledged to spend on class-size reduction and how big their classes ultimately were. But it did not release any means at all of comparing this year’s class sizes to last year’s. Even referring to data released last year does not help, because the two years’ information is organized in ways that are not at all comparable.

Take the Bronx School of Science Inquiry and Investigation, a middle school that pledged to spend $473,000 this year on lowering class sizes. I can find a good figure for this year, the average class size for all the school’s general education students, which is 26.3. But I can’t find anything close to comparable for last year. The only way to get a comparable figure would be to do arithmetic involving grade-by-grade class size averages and enrollment figures.

But that would leave me with a conclusion only about a single school — and an unsustainable model for looking at the other 1,499 schools in the city. Yet this process is exactly the one that a DOE press officer, Will Havemann, suggested I use when I asked him how I could see whether schools that spent money on class-size reduction actually reduced class sizes. Havemann is a nice guy, and so after I grumbled, he promised to ask higher-ups for more specific help — like, for instance, a simple comparison of this year’s average class size versus last year’s alongside amount of money spent.

I’ll report back when I receive that.