New York education bureaucrats want public school superintendents to inspect and evaluate private schools in their districts to determine whether students there receive a “substantially equivalent” education.
Superintendents will then report to local public school boards, which have the authority to block children from attending any private school that doesn’t meet the ambiguous standard, the Council for American Private Education reports.
The New York State Education Department recently announced new guidelines that state “local public school officials have the responsibility to ensure that the education received by non-public school students is substantially equivalent to that received in district public schools. Substantial equivalency means that a program is comparable in content and educational experience.”
The decree states “all religious and independent schools will be visited as part of the process,” and that “superintendents or designees should plan to re-visit the religious and independent schools in their district on a five-year cycle.”
Students in private and independent schools regularly outperform public school students on standardized tests, rates of college acceptance, and a lot of other academic measurements. It’s one of numerous reasons millions of parents contribute taxes to fund public schools, but opt to also pay private school tuition to send their children to schools that better fit their needs.
Parents and education advocates across New York are livid about the guidelines, especially Jewish and Catholic leaders with a long track record of producing excellent graduates.
“We write to inform you that the New York State Council of Catholic School Superintendents, representing some 500 Catholic schools, rejected the recently released ‘substantial equivalency’ guidelines and is directing all diocesan Catholic schools not to participate in any review carried out by local public school officials,” the council wrote in a letter to New York Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia.
CAPE board member Rabbi David Zwiebel and co-chairman of New York CAPE, Jim Cultrara, also denounced the guidance, which included specific courses and hours private schools must devote to certain subjects.
“The notion that our schools have to provide an education that is ‘substantially equivalent’ to that provided in the public schools, as measured by the specific courses offered and the hours required to be devoted to those courses, is patently absurd,” Zwiebel said. “Parents who reach deep into their pockets, often at considerable sacrifice, to enroll their children in religious or independent schools do so precisely because they seek an education that is substantially inequivalent to that which is offered in the public schools.”
Thousands of folks flooded NYSED with letters and emails in opposition, while others sounded the alarm in editorials featured in online blogs, the CAPE newsletter, and local and national news sites. The revelations come amid years of debate between proponents of school choice – parents, students, private and charter schools – and teachers unions that have imposed a near monopoly on education for decades. New York’s teachers unions are among the most influential in state politics, and have successfully managed to limit competition with the help of friendly lawmakers and elected officials who favor government-run education.
“Leviathan has now focused its attention on religious schools here in New York, with the clear intention of either forcing them to submit to its authority or face destruction,” Ed Mechmannn, director for the Catholic Archdiocese of New York wrote in an online bulletin. “Does anyone trust that the government will self-limit their exercise of this new-found power? That’s not how Leviathan works. These new rules would give Leviathan the authority to eliminate the very concept of independent private schools and to override the religious sensibilities of parents and school administrators.”
Bob Confer, a father of two and vice president of an upstate plastics company, used an analogy from the private sector to put the situation into proper perspective.
“Let this sink in: A school district, which competes for students and families with a private school within its borders, is given the power to rate the effectiveness of its competitor. It would be no different than, say, the Department of Health leaning on chain restaurants to rate the health and practices of family-owned diners in their communities.
“Won’t the grading party always dismiss, for their own benefit, the excellence of their foe despite the fact that customers are voting with their feet and willingly paying more for what they see to be a superior product?” Confer wrote in an editorial for the Lockport Journal.
NYSED officials have backtracked some and loosened the requirements in the guidance amid the public backlash, but they’re holding firm on the directive for superintendents to oversee their competition.
“It doesn’t bode well for private schools and those who believe families should have educational options,” Reason opined. “Would anybody trust Microsoft with the power to determine if its competitors should be allowed to exist?”
As the debate rages on, private school students continue to outperform their public school peers by significant margins.
CAPE points to ACT scores from 2018, which showed 84 percent of private school students were college ready in English, compared to only 57 percent of public school graduates. For reading it was 67 percent to 43 percent, math was 59 percent to 37 percent and science was 55 percent to 34 percent, respectively.