---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Leonie Haimson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: May 29, 2008 9:21 AM
Subject: HEBREW BROUHAHA : charter school to go into D22
Cc: email@example.com, CEC22@schools.nyc.gov, firstname.lastname@example.org
Here we go again….a Hebrew charter school meant for D22. Its founder is a scion of yet another financier billionaire– in this case, Michael Steinhardt.
The statement below that charter schools are so much more accountable and transparent – and that "New York law requires charter applicants to outline in great detail their curriculum, their intended location and their marketing plan" is a fiction.
They usually don't reveal their location until its too late – and their applications are not available to parents or other members of the public w/out a lengthy and sometimes expensive FOIL .
By THOMAS W. CARROLL
May 29, 2008 -- SCHOOLS Chancellor Joel Klein is about to receive an application to create a Hebrew-language charter school. Welcome to New York City's next big new-school controversy.
Debate continues over the year-old Khalil Gibran International Academy - a non-charter Arab-language school. And the Hebrew school is sure to face objections from groups that suspect instruction will include a religious element.
If approved, the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School would open with 150 co-ed students in kindergarten and 1st grade, with plans to add a grade each year and grow to a total of 450 kids. The location: ethnically diverse Community School District 22 in central and southern Brooklyn.
The school's lead applicant is journalist Sara Berman. Among its key supporters is her father, Michael Steinhardt, a major benefactor of NYU's Steinhardt School of Education.
The school would cover the core academic subjects, but be the first New York charter school to also offer Hebrew-language instruction. (A few regular New York public schools offer Hebrew as a foreign-language elective.) It would also teach about Jewish culture and history and modern Israeli society.
That approach is similar to that of the Hellenic Charter School in Brooklyn, which pairs instruction in classical Greek and Latin with classes in Greek culture and history. Other language/culture charter schools in New York include Amber Charter School in Washington Heights and the Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter School in Rochester, which both feature instruction in Spanish and in Hispanic cultures.
The Hebrew Academy would avoid teaching religious doctrine (and respect other constitutional limits), but this charter application will still spark complaints. Extremists (like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State) act as if any discussion of religion in public schools imperils the republic.
In fact, US schools (especially in states like New York) typically steer too far from the topic. They avoid any thorough discussion of religion - shortchanging students.
After all, religion plays a central role in culture, language, law, art and history. Countless issues are hard to grasp unless you understand the religious dimensions - stem-cell research, abortion, the death penalty. Religion played a central role in wars throughout history - and still does.
The US Constitution lets public schools teach about religion - as long as they don't cross the line into teaching religion as doctrine. To ensure that these parameters are being respected, let me suggest a few tests.
Transparency: Is this public school open to outside scrutiny?
The founders of the Hebrew Language Academy covered this by organizing as a charter school. New York law requires charter applicants to outline in great detail their curriculum, their intended location and their marketing plan.
Much controversy about the Khalil Gibran International Academy centered on suspicions that it actually was designed as a Muslim religious school, or madrassa, masquerading as a public school. These fears were fueled by the almost total lack of public information on its curriculum.
Open admissions: Does this school discriminate? Naturally, the suspicion is greater for schools with a religious dimension or a cultural focus.
New York law covers this question, too: Charters must commit to recruiting in a nondiscriminatory manner. And if they have more applicants than seats (as NYC charters nearly always do), these schools must admit students via an open, random lottery.
Assimilation: The perils of sectarianism are on display across the world. There's nothing wrong with a school that celebrates one culture's major contributions. But it's also vital that the academic experience also focus on our common heritage - as Americans and in the sweep of Western civilization.
The Hebrew Language Academy appears to meet this proposed three-part test. If it wins approval, it will add to the mix of secular public-school options available in New York City. As a bonus, the approval process may trigger a long-overdue debate about the role of religion in our public schools. Perhaps we can even expand the concept of parental choice in New York to include religious schools.
Thomas W. Carroll played a key role in the adoption of New York's charter-school law. He is now president of the Albany-based Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability.
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