Relieving overcrowding in New York City's schools "is going to require a change of mindset — it's not just about building new schools, it's also about reconfiguring existing schools," said Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott at today's City Council hearing on school capacity and utilization. Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm, testifying with Walcott on behalf of the Department of Education, said that the DOE has made significant progress towards creating 63,000 new school seats, as outlined in the current capital plan; so far, 55,000 seats have been created or are in progress. Grimm and Walcott stressed that while capital investment is one strategy the DOE uses to reduce overcrowding, equally important are using available space more strategically and changing enrollment policies to ease pressure on the most in-demand programs and schools. "We have room in the system... The challenge is making sure we have room in the right places," Walcott said, stating that the overall school utilization rate in the city is 84.5%. The new capital plan, he said, will look not just at city or district level enrollment statistics, but also at individual neighborhoods where "pockets of overcrowding" exist — or pockets of underutilized space. He and Grimm warned that resolving overcrowding on a neighborhood basis might require communities to make tough choices, such as moving one program or school from a crowded building into an underutilized one, or changing zone boundaries, as has been proposed for District 3. The grade configuration of some schools may also have to change, by combining elementary and middle schools or middle and high schools to create mixed-level buildings. Some schools are "victims of their own success," said Grimm, noting that parents understandably want to send their children to the best programs. Part of the solution must be to expand the number of excellent schools, she said, adding that the city will also look at adjusting enrollment policies. While the DOE's testimony emphasized solving localized overcrowding problems, others at the hearing questioned the methodology underlying their school capacity and utilization estimates.
At the kickoff rally of A Better Capital Plan campaign this morning, elected officials offered up two giant sacks stuffed with thousands of signed postcards calling for alleviation of overcrowding that currently affects hundreds of schools and improvements to the DOE’s planning process. The officials were joined by dozens of parents, mostly from Manhattan’s District 2 and District 3, and children from PS 3 in Greenwich Village, who held aloft colorful posters asking “Are we students or are we packing peanuts?” and calling for "No more cramped schools!" Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, whose “Crowded Out” reports and overcrowding task force have have given momentum to the recent surge in anti-overcrowding activity, led off the rally by demanding "the strongest, biggest capital plan we can possibly create.” The School Construction Authority is due to present a new five-year capital plan next month.
Preceding Roland Fryer by more than 70 years, the New York City school board voted in 1936 to create "a 'laboratory' to analyze teaching methods and curricula," according to a New York Times article from that year. Unlike Fryer's Educational Innovation Lab, which will be funded by the Broad Foundation and other philanthropic organizations, the 1936 lab was part of a reorganization of the Board of Ed's Bureau of Reference, Research, and Statistics. And while Fryer's effort will cost $44 million, the board member offering the 1936 resolution requested only $156,000 — about $2.3 million in 2007 dollars. The laboratory was to focus on experimenting with new teaching methods and promoting the sharing of successful strategies, though no details were given as to what new methods were being tested. Fryer intends to start out by testing motivational strategies like those he piloted in New York City's Million Motivation Campaign, now discontinued for lack of funding. More on the 1936 ed innovation lab after the jump.