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Overcrowded classrooms put kids at disadvantage

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reads

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reads to children in a pre-kindergarten class at P.S. 130 on Feb. 25, 2014, in New York City. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Seth Wenig

In one Brooklyn school, there's a kindergarten class with 33 students. Another has 35 second-graders crammed into one room. And a third Brooklyn school has 39 fourth-graders in one class -- and 37 in another.

Imagine being the teacher of those 33 kindergartners. Imagine vying for attention as one of the 39 fourth-graders.

This is not the "free and appropriate" education NYC public school students are promised. This is appalling.

All told, 48,440 NYC public school students in kindergarten through third grade are in classes of 30 or more this fall, according to the advocacy group Class Size Matters. That means nearly 1 in every 5 students in those grades is trying to learn in an overcrowded classroom.

In the fall of 2012, that number was just 35,137.

And yet, in Mayor Bill de Blasio's sweeping education plans, reducing class size has gone unmentioned. Although he glibly made it a priority as a candidate, the mayor doesn't discuss it unless someone asks.

That's what happened last week during a Queens town hall on education. When pressed, de Blasio said he put $4 billion toward adding seats, but he recognized it wasn't enough. And schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña still questioned what made a class size too big. This is not progress.

Meanwhile, students are sitting in cramped classrooms, often without enough desks, chairs and supplies to accommodate everyone. How are they supposed to learn to read, or add and subtract, or even play and work together?

There may be debate about whether there's much difference between a class of 17 kindergartners and one with 18 or 20. But there's no question -- and studies have shown -- that 30 is just too many.

The NYC teachers union's contract caps kindergarten at 25 students. A state law passed eight years ago puts the goal at 20 for kindergarten. But the state hasn't increased funding that would help the city meet that goal.

City Hall and NYC's education officials have to make class size a priority, just like literacy and computer classes and higher state test scores. Then, perhaps, students can focus on learning and teachers can focus on teaching. Right now, it's just about crowd control.

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