State renews push for private, parochial school oversight


State education officials are reviving their contentious push to establish oversight over private schools — including yeshivas which have been criticized for lacking in basic instruction.

The agency wants to ensure that independent and parochial schools provide an education that is “substantially equivalent” to what is offered in the public school sector.

The effort originated in 2016 after critics of Jewish religious schools asserted that they systematically neglected basic academic subjects like math and English in favor of religious immersion.

But the state’s initial proposal — which would establish their authority over everything from curriculum to school schedules — was met with pushback from a range of independent schools both religious and secular.

Opponents of the plan included a coalition of elite Manhattan private schools like Brearley and St. David’s, who argued that the plan encroached on their independence.

State officials paused their effort in February 2020 and issued a refreshed proposal this week.

Rather than subject private schools to direct scrutiny and reviews from public school officials, the new plan would allow them to demonstrate “substantial equivalency” through less intrusive means.

Hasidic Jewish students gather at the entrance of private yeshiva (school) in Borough Park area of Brooklyn
Hasidic Jewish students gather at the entrance of private yeshiva in Borough Park, Brooklyn.
Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

These pathways could include state tests and other assessments.

Young Advocates for Fair Education, which has been led to the campaign to reform yeshivas, applauded much of the new framework but warned of potential loopholes.

“This process has taken a long time but we are cautiously hopeful,” said YAFFED founded Naftuli Moster in a statement. “What we have always advocated for is an effective enforcement mechanism that supports current state law. Knowledge is a birthright.”

Borough Park Orthodox students
The effort originated in 2016 after critics of Jewish religious schools asserted that they systematically neglected basic academic subjects like math and English.
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File

Moster has argued that yeshivas — many of which are concentrated in New York City —leave graduates wholly unprepared upon graduation.

Agudath Israel of America, a Jewish religious group, said the state’s reworked proposal marked an improvement on the original but was still grounds for concern.

The group praised language in the plan that assured religious schools that their principles and cultural priorities would be respected.

But the organization said “we remain deeply concerned about the impact these regulations may have on yeshivas across New York State.”

The group said that the state’s proposal does not explicitly note the educational value of religious instruction — an omission that is “entirely unacceptable.”

The state Education Department will collect feedback over the summer and eventually present a final version to the Board of Regents.



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