Written by Nicholas Tampio, Published in the luhod on March 18, 2022.
The New York Board of Regents is about to narrow the range of education opportunities in the state. If you like that all schools focus on standardized testing, then this is a welcome development. If you would like families to be able to choose a different kind of education for their children, then you ought to tell the Board of Regents before they adopt new regulations for nonpublic schools.
The roots for these new regulations go back about a decade with the announcement of the Regents Reform Agenda. The reform agenda included adopting the Common Core standards, tests and teacher evaluation systems predicated on how students did on the Common Core tests. Many New Yorkers joined the test refusal movement to say that we did not want this kind of education for our children. Some parents enrolled their children in private schools, or started homeschooling, rather than subject their children to this kind of education.
The new regulations for nonpublic schools would tightly constrain the kinds of education offered outside the public school system. If you are responsible for educating children in New York, then it becomes almost impossible to avoid teaching your children the Common Core standards, now modified and renamed as the Next Generation Learning Standards.
The Compulsory Education Law of 1895 requires that students at private schools, or homeschooled, must be provided instruction “at least substantially equivalent to the instruction to children of like age at the public school of the city or district in which such child resides.”
Regardless of the debate about the meaning of the words “substantially equivalent,” the working arrangement for over a century allowed New York families to choose Catholic, Jewish, Waldorf or other kinds of education for their children, some of whom did not thrive on standardized tests or structured curricula.
The new proposed regulations allow several pathways for nonpublic schools to demonstrate compliance with the law. Many of the pathways about schools for the blind and deaf, schools on military bases, or International Baccalaureate programs apply to only a small percentage of nonpublic schools. The most important pathway, I venture is the one that stipulates that a nonpublic school is substantially equivalent if it “regularly uses assessments approved by the Department that demonstrate student academic progress as they move from grade to grade.”
Nonpublic schools may use state assessments, which, of course, align with the state education standards. Nonpublic schools may also other approved assessments such as Acuity College and Career Readiness Assessments made by McGraw-Hill and aimswebPlus made by Pearson.
If school districts do not review nonpublic schools in their area, then the state commissioner of education, currently Betty Rosa, “may withhold public moneys” from the district. If students refuse to take the tests, then the state can punish the school district. Given that tests drive instruction, then schools and families outside the public school system will now feel pressure to offer the same kind of instruction.
The proposed regulations also require nonpublic schools to provide instruction in New York State history; instruction in health education regarding alcohol, drugs, and tobacco abuse; instruction in highway safety and traffic regulation; instruction in fire drills and in fire and arson prevention; and instruction in hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of an automated external defibrillator.
Given this long list of required topics, I sympathize with the advocates for the yeshiva community who protest the regulations. They argue that yeshiva students “devote long hours to the study of the Chumash, Mishnah, Talmud and various other religious texts.” By not considering these religious studies, then the Regents make a “cruel mockery of the review process.” Critics are generalizing about a few poorly educated yeshiva students and calling for regulations that would hinder Orthodox Jews from making meaningful choices about how to educate their children.
I am not an orthodox Jew, but I value education freedom. As the American philosopher John Dewey argued long ago, nonpublic schools can serve as laboratories for public education. They are places to test out new ideas, including, for example, bringing students to the forest for part of the school day. I want to see more such experiments in education. Don’t you?
If the Regents approve these regulations in September, then all New York students will be subjected to the test-and-punish education regime. New York education should have room for a wide array of educational models, not a dystopian version of education equity.
Nicholas Tampio is a professor of political science at Fordham University.