High school teacher Arthur Goldstein reports what happened when teachers complained about overcrowded classes in New York City:

“A few months ago, a $1,600-a-day arbitrator named Deborah M. Gaines declared that Francis Lewis High School, where I work, could keep oversized classes, but that teachers of said classes would be relieved once a week from a school assignment, e.g. tutoring.

“It’s hard to imagine, by any stretch of the imagination, that 40 minutes per week of not tutoring alleviates the difficulties of teachers grappling with oversized classes. It’s even harder to imagine how less tutoring benefits students, particularly from a city that claims to put “Children First. Always.”

“If I’m a conscientious kid, sitting in one of our 42 oversized classes — some of which run as high as 37 students — and not getting enough attention from my teacher, I might be wondering how her being less available to tutor me helps the situation. Do I breathe a sigh of relief that she’s off that period and hope for the best? The arbitrator and the Department of Education seem to assume so.

“Maybe I’m not sophisticated enough to grasp how it helps. I’m just a lowly teacher. But I’m also my school’s UFT chapter leader, so twice a year I report class sizes, the union files a grievance, and we bring them before an arbitrator.

“Usually there are a handful and we work it out. This year the number was higher, never went down, and in fact rose to 42 by my last count.

“Oversized classes are tough to manage, especially when teachers in New York City are rated by a rubric that values student engagement highly. In a room with over 34 teenagers, keeping them motivated and on task is challenging in that it demands total attention. The arbitrator may as well have declared that teachers of oversized classes will now have eyes in the backs of their heads.

“It’s been 50 years since class size limits were first established in the United Federation of Teachers contract. Since that time, we’ve managed to not improve upon them at all, and worked our way up to the highest class sizes in the state….”