Essay Class Size Reductions May Be Inequitably Distributed under a New Mandate in New York City
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An Essay for the Learning Curve
Matthew Chingos, Ariella Meltzer
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New York governor Kathy Hochul signed a law in September 2022 that requires schools in New York City to reduce their class sizes to no more than 20 students in grades K–3, 23 students in grades 4–8, and 25 students in high school over the next five years. New York City has already met the law’s requirement that at least 20 percent of classes comply with the new caps in the upcoming school year but will have to reduce class sizes to attain 100 percent compliance by 2027–28. But this law raises questions about how it will be implemented and how it will affect resource equity across the city.

Key Findings

  • Overall, we estimate that average class sizes would fall by four to seven students if the policy were fully implemented without any changes in school programming or enrollment.
  • Reductions will be larger in the elementary grades than in middle and high school.
  • More than 80 percent of white and Asian students would see their class sizes reduced, compared with 56 percent of Black students and 66 percent of Hispanic students. About two-thirds of students from families experiencing poverty are in classes that would be reduced, compared with 78 percent of students from higher-income families.

Figure 1

Implications

Hiring enough teachers to comply with the mandate will have an annual cost as high as $1.9 billion, in addition to more than $30 billion for school building construction. How the policy plays out in practice will depend on how it is implemented, including how it is funded and how it changes student enrollment and teacher staffing across schools.

The legislature did not provide new funding for the city to implement the mandate, instead requiring the use of existing state-provided resources. This means the class size mandate’s implications for resource equity will depend on how school budgets are shifted to implement the policy, including whether funds are relocated from schools with smaller classes to schools with larger classes.

The policy’s impact on student outcomes will also depend on other implementation decisions, such as whether enrollments should be reduced in schools that exceed the class size caps and do not have space to accommodate more classrooms and decisions about where to invest in larger (or new) school buildings. Another key implementation question is how hiring many new teachers affects teacher quality overall as well as how teachers are distributed across different schools.

The law provides breathing room for New York City policymakers focused on equity by directing them to initially target schools enrolling a larger share of students from low-income families for class size reductions. But as the full implementation deadline of 2027–28 approaches, an across-the-board class size mandate will pose challenges to policymakers seeking to distribute education resources equitably rather than equally.

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Additional Resources

Tags K-12 education
Policy Centers Center on Education Data and Policy
States New York