As a 25-year veteran teacher in California’s overcrowded schools, I’ve seen my share of Band-Aid solutions to one of public education’s most pressing problems. Among the makeshift fixes are gymnasiums and cafeterias converted into temporary classrooms that soon become permanent, and multi-track calendars that often result in siblings attending school during different times of the year.
Even though the California Department of Education has penalties for overcrowding, the state has more students per class than any other except Utah. California’s schools enroll up to five times as many students as they were built to accommodate.
According to Project STAR (the Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio), a long-term study of reduced class size, the maximum student population in an elementary school classroom should be 15-18. In California, it’s about 24.
Overcrowding’s consequences are well known to parents. Too many kids, too close together for too long leads to lack of concentration, lower achievement and excessive violence.
New York schools have the same overcrowding problem. In one inner city district, a demographic projection predicted a 1,000-seat shortage by 2015. During a local meeting held in 2011 to appease concerned parents, then-New York City School Chancellor Cathleen P. Black told the audience that the solution might be birth control. Black’s exact words: “Couldn’t we just have some birth control for a while? It would really help us.”
Instead of acknowledging the truth in Black’s statement and endorsing it, Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras berated her. Ferreras, without offering a better suggestion, said that Black’s job does not include judging the “reproductive choices of women in our city.”
In part because of her outspokenness, Black served only 95 tumultuous days as chancellor. But she was right about birth control. Census Bureau data shows that New York has about 1.8 million children under 18. That’s a lot of kids to educate especially in an era of diminishing municipal budgets, growing diversity and increasing poverty.
Reducing overpopulation and the accompanying school overcrowding through birth control is an excellent option and, unless they have a better idea, one that Ferraras and other city officials should endorse.