The Government Should Keep Its Involvement in Religious Schools to a Minimum

June 21, 2021 | Michael Broyde and Moshe Krakowski
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In February, the New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang said in an interview that the municipal government “shouldn’t interfere with [ḥasidic] religious and parental choice” regarding schooling, “as long as the outcomes are good.” After the increased governmental scrutiny of ḥaredi schools in recent years over concerns that they provide inadequate secular educations, such statements have won Yang the support of some prominent Orthodox rabbis and communal leaders. Michael Broyde and Moshe Krakowski argue that his position is fundamentally correct:

While data about ḥasidic economic and educational outcomes are limited, the information available does not suggest that Ḥasidim are particularly disadvantaged economically. . . . So too, it’s not clear that ḥasidic students—who are largely English-language learners since their first language is usually Yiddish—would fare any better in public schools. For example, eighth-grade English-language learners in public schools in Williamsburg, [a Brooklyn neighborhood where many Ḥasidim live], had a zero-percent proficiency rate in math and English in 2016, according to the city’s own data.

Use of education law to mandate schooling that conflicts with religious faith is exactly what our constitutional system opposes. And for good reason: forcing parents into an educational model that they religiously oppose is unlikely to succeed.

In a multicultural society, we must all make room for each other and for our diverse values. While most Americans will attend public schools, private schools (particularly parochial schools), exist to provide other kinds of education—in Mandarin or Yiddish, focusing on Native American culture or talmudic law, providing an Amish or Catholic view of the world. Rather than mandating conformity, New York should support reasonable educational rubrics—ones that are consistent with each religious community’s values, and that, as Yang suggests, produce good outcomes. Carrots from government, rather than sticks, need to be used to achieve those goals.

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