New York State’s Hasidic community has sent over 300,000 comments opposing proposed government regulations that would require private schools to show that they provide substantially equivalent instruction to that of public schools, as Jewish, Catholic, and other religious schools try to maintain autonomy over the education they provide.
The proposed regulations would require private schools to be accredited or be registered through other approved strategies or administer state assessments such as standardized testing. Schools that do not comply will be subject to reviews by the local school district. If schools fail to demonstrate their equivalency, students will be required to attend another school or be deemed truant.
JP O’Hare, a spokesperson for the New York State Education Department, explained,
“New York State law requires education substantially equivalent to that provided in public schools be provided to all students in non-public schools.” He added, “Therefore the Department has an obligation under the law to ensure all students receive an education that enables them to fulfill their potential and helps them develop the skills and knowledge needed to support themselves and their families, contribute to society and participate in civic life.”
The regulations came about in response to Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED), a group which claims that Hasidic Jewish yeshiva schools do not prepare students for life. The organization says it is “committed to improving secular education in Hasidic and Haredi schools,” because graduates “are severely limited in work options and often are forced to rely on government aid to support themselves and their large families.”
They assert that the schools focus on religious instruction instead of academics.
New York’s Hasidic community has expressed opposition to the regulations. Aaron Twerski, a Brooklyn Law School professor and Yeshiva parent, told state officials, “We have done a magnificent job in educating our children. They are deeply religious, highly disciplined, hard-working and industrious.” Twerski added, “What you propose is an assault on the Orthodox and Chassidic. Your oversight is not needed and is not welcome.”
Rabbi Yaakov Menken said, “There’s a 3,000-year history [of] outside organizations trying to put control on Jewish education. It has never worked well. We take education, specifically religious education, very, very seriously. The idea that a person should be an educated and an intellectual person is actually at the roots of Judaism itself.”
“Here in New York state, they’re not just interfering in public education, they’re seeking to interfere in private education. Not only are the parents paying taxes to support the public school to which they do not send their children, but they also have to pay for the cost of educating their child. And now, the state is saying even there, you as a parent do not get freedom of choice in terms of [what] educational content to give to your child.”
Other private schools have voiced opposition to the regulations. Michael Deegan, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of New York, said, “Catholic schools are the very model for education in America, and we have the test scores and graduation rates to prove it.” He continued, “While we welcome most any measurement of our rigorous academics, we remain concerned with the notion of local school districts being empowered in any way to be the arbiters of such scrutiny.”
It is ironic that YAFFED and the New York Education Department are concerned that private schools are not focusing on academics and want them to be equivalent to public schools. Public schools have been widely criticized not only for failing to prepare students for the real world, but for focusing on teaching left-wing ideology instead of academics.
In fact, according to a recent opinion piece written by former presidential candidate and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, parents are pulling their children out of public school in record numbers, with national enrollment down by 1.3 million students and total enrollment in New York City dropping by nearly 10 percent.
Parents are the ones responsible for directing their children’s education, not government organizations, and since parents have made the choice to send their children to religious schools, they should also be the ones to hold the schools accountable, not government.
Ecclesiastes 7:12 says, “For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.”
The Bible is not opposed to education as some believe, but instead encourages it. A religious education shouldn’t be equal to a secular education, it should be (and usually is) superior to it. The difference is found in the fact that religious education is grounded in God’s wisdom, which leads to truth, and not in secularism, which leads to a lack of truth. As Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
The fact that the New York state government is making a move to regulate private schools and potentially punish their students as truants at this juncture should be a concern for parents, as should reports from homeschooling parents about increased harassment by government authorities. Federal funding for public schools is directly tied to enrollment numbers, and as more parents pull their children out of public school, the effort to find ways to force them back in is likely to escalate.