Category Archives: Education

The East Ramapo School District: Hasidic Jews, Education, and Taxes

The most recent episode of This American Life devoted an entire hour to the tell the fascinating and unfortunate story of the East Ramapo school district.  The story involves the all too common reality of a school board making draconian budgetary cuts.  What makes East Ramapo unique and the cuts more contentious is the fact that the board is dominated by Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Jews who send their children to private religious schools, or yeshivas.

Here is a description of the story from the TAL website:

We take it for granted that the majority calls the shots. But in one NY school district, that idea — majority rules — has led to an all-out war. School board disputes are pretty common, but not like this one. This involves multimillion-dollar land deals, lawyers threatening to beat up parents, felony criminal charges, and the highest levels of state government. Meanwhile, the students are caught in the middle.

Before the war in the East Ramapo, New York school district, there was a truce. Local school officials made a deal with their Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbors: we’ll leave you alone to teach your children in private yeshivas as you see fit as long as you allow our public school budget to pass. But the budget is funded by local property taxes, which everyone, including the local Hasidim, have to pay — even though their kids don’t attend the schools that they’re money is paying for. What followed was one of the most volatile local political battles we’ve ever encountered

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Filed under Democracy, Education, NPR, Religion, Taxs, This American LIfe

The History of Education: Race, Gender and Standardized Testing

In a recent episode of NPR’s Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed Dana Goldstein author of the new book The Teacher Wars, a book which chronicle the American history of teachers, which the subtitle states is America’s Most Embattled Profession.  The book discusses how education in America intersects with race and gender as well as the controversial issues in modern education, including the role of standardized testing.  

 Here is a description an introduction to the interview from the NPR website:

As students return to school, the national dialogue on controversies surrounding teacher tenure, salaries, the core curriculum, testing and teacher competence will get more fervent.

In her new book, The Teacher Wars, Dana Goldstein writes about how teaching became “the most controversial profession in America,” and how teachers have become both “resented and idealized.”

In the New York Times, critic Alexander Nazaryan described the book as “meticulously fair and disarmingly balanced.” Although it’s largely a history, it also draws on Goldstein’s reporting on recent controversies surrounding teaching.

“One of the things I noticed, especially after the recession hit in 2008 and coming into President Obama’s administration, was we were having a big national conversation about inequality,” Goldstein tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “And teaching was something that was discussed again and again as a potential fix — a fix for inequality, something that could help poor children achieve like middle-class children and close these socioeconomic gaps that we’re so concerned about as a nation.”

For the book, Goldstein researched 200 years of teaching in America.

“What surprised me … was that we’ve always had these high expectations,” she says. “This idea that teachers have a role to play in fighting poverty and inequality has been with us since the early 19th century.”


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Freakonomics on College, Fake Diplomas, and the Value of Real Ones

The Freakonomics Radio Podcast, recently re-ran an episode titled, “Freakonomics Goes to College: Part 1.”  Here is description of the podcast:

The gist: what is the true value these days of a college education?

(You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)

As you can tell from the title, this is the first episode of a two-parter. There is so much to say about college that we could have done ten episodes on the topic, but we held ourselves back to two.

The key guests in this first episode are, in order of appearance:

+ Allen Ezell, a former FBI agent who co-authored the book Degree Mills: The Billion-dollar Industry That Has Sold over a Million Fake Diplomas.

Karl Rove, the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff for President George W. Bush. Rove, it turns out, is not a college graduate. He is, however, a published author — of Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight.

David Card, an economist at Berkeley who has done a lot of research and writing on the value of education.

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November 5, 2013 · 10:42 pm

Malcolm Gladwell: College Football Should Be Banned

Sunday on Fareed Zarakia GPS, author Malcolm Gladwell discussed his proposal to abolish college football.

Here is an excerpt from the interview.

You compare football to dog fighting. Why?

Yes, I did a piece for The New Yorker a couple of years ago where I said it. This was at the time when, remember, Michael Vick, was convicted of dog fighting. And to me, that was such a kind of, and the whole world got up in arms about this. How could he use dogs in a violent manner, in a way that compromised their health and integrity?

And I was just struck at the time by the unbelievable hypocrisy of people in football, for goodness sake, getting up in arms about someone who chose to fight dogs, to pit one dog against each other.

In what way is dog fighting any different from football on a certain level, right? I mean you take a young, vulnerable dog who was made vulnerable because of his allegiance to the owner and you ask him to engage in serious sustained physical combat with another dog under the control of another owner, right?

Well, what’s football? We take young boys, essentially, and we have them repeatedly, over the course of the season, smash each other in the head, with known neurological consequences.

And why do they do that? Out of an allegiance to their owners and their coaches and a feeling they’re participating in some grand American spectacle.

They’re the same thing. And the idea that as a culture we would be absolutely quick and sure about coming to the moral boiling point over the notion that you would do this to dogs and yet completely blind to the notion you would do this to young men is, to my mind, astonishing.

I mean there’s a certain point where I just said, you know, we have to say enough is enough.


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August 29, 2013 · 9:44 pm

Why We Are Failing Good Teachers

Last weekend, This American Life ran a story about an award winning teacher who is being forced to quit.  It’s a really exasperating story if you care about the state of American education.  Here is a description of the segment: 

Science teacher Jason Pittman, who teaches pre-school through sixth grade at a school in Fairfax County, Virginia, won a big teaching award this week. In fact, during his ten years teaching, he’s won many, many awards. He loves his job. But this week, he explains to Ira why he’s quitting, even though he doesn’t want to. (6 minutes)

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June 22, 2013 · 12:06 pm

Expelling Suspension from School Policy

Recently, NPR’s All Things Considered ran a story about a California school district that no longer suspends trouble students from school.  Here is a description of the story: 

The effectiveness of school suspensions is up for debate. California is the most recent battleground, but a pattern of uneven application and negative outcomes is apparent across the country.

California students were suspended more than 700,000 times over the 2011-2012 school year,according to state data. One school district decided it was getting ridiculous. In May, the board for the Los Angeles Unified School District passed a new resolution to ban the use of suspensions to punish students for “willful defiance.”

Those offenses include: bringing a cellphone to school, public displays of affection, truancy or repeated tardiness. They accounted for nearly half of all suspensions issued in California last year.

But there’s mounting research that says that out-of-school suspensions put students on the fast track to falling behind, dropping out, and going to jail. Moreover, some groups are disproportionately suspended more than others. . . . 

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June 7, 2013 · 7:47 am

“Kahn Academy: The Future of Education?”

Several months ago, 60 Minutes ran a story about the Kahn Acamedy,  a non-profit educational website.  I was so inspired by the story that I wrote a letter to the editor of the Scranton Times-Tribune (below).   

 I have two questions for NEPA parents. First, do you remember everything (or anything ) from high school algebra or biology? Second, do you have children asking you to help them with polynomials or the phases of mitosis?


It is not uncommon for parents, even parents who were once exceptional math and science students, to no longer have the foggiest notion of how cell division works or what a polynomial even is. However, there is an answer – the Khan Academy.


Recently, “60 Minutes” ran a segment on the Khan Academy and its revolutionary vision for education. The Khan Academy is a website run by Salman Khan, an American educator with multiple degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard.


While I suggest that all students, teachers and parents go online and watch the “60 Minutes” story for themselves, the gist of it is that Khan’s website has thousands of short (15-20 minute) and engaging math and science lessons (as well as SAT prep).


The most amazing part is that it is all free. No longer does getting a tutor depend on whether you can afford it. So, the next time you or your child or your student is struggling with math or science, Internet search for “Khan Academy.” It will blow your mind or, at least, greatly expand it.

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June 2, 2013 · 8:55 pm