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Putting the Public in Private Schooling

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 13:28

A proposal to force New York private schools to report more than their local boards of education now require is circulating in Albany and has some educators and parents worried. The goal is to improve what the state calls “substantial equivalency,” and it is intended to assure a high-quality experience for all the state’s school-age students.

The proposal also is at odds with the basic concept of private education by giving local public school officials final say over much of what private schools do. Curriculum and vacation days could become areas of contention as local authorities contend with private school administrators and parents. Reviews by boards of education would extend to private schools’ textbooks and lesson plans.

Independence for students to learn in differently structured environments is one of the most valuable aspects of private education. Public school districts must answer to the state in most things and can seem like immovable mountains when anything not strictly prescribed by the Education Department is attempted. For example, even the Bridgehampton School’s 2016 plan to lease a tiny sliver of land on Montauk Highway for a farm stand had to be approved by the state.

Two-person-minimum teams from the local districts would be empowered to review private school documentation and conduct site visits. If a school did not meet the local district’s standards, it would have to come up with a plan and timeline to turn things around. If a school under review did not comply or meet these goals, it could be closed by a majority vote of the local board of education. And what you might say adds injury to insult, any children who did not enroll in a school considered qualified by the local board of education would be categorized as truant and their parents liable.

In practice, this would give district superintendents, most of whom already have their hands full, a vast new area of influence. In a particularly mind-bending example, the relatively large and innovative Ross School would come under the authority of the tiny Wainscott district, within which it is located. There is also a potential hit on taxpayers as well, if public school enrollments were to jump thanks to an influx of new students.

The proposed rules are unnecessarily heavy-handed and intrusive. New York State already requires grade-level tests, which are supposed to provide a means to evaluate students’ abilities and schools’ overall performance levels. If there is an ongoing problem with evaluations, then maybe improving the tests should be tried before dragging private schools into the public sphere.

The New York Board of Regents is expected to act on the proposed changes at its October meeting. Comments were to be accepted in writing through Monday. Better hurry if you have something to say.


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