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New York approves new private school regulations

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today, for the first time, New York's private schools must prove they offer English, math and other fundamentals or risk losing government funds. The state Board of Regents oversees New York schools, and they're the ones who voted in new rules on Tuesday after a New York Times investigation that showed shortfalls at ultra-Orthodox Jewish boys schools. Here's Sophia Chang of WNYC.

SOPHIA CHANG, BYLINE: The new regulations will mandate that all private schools provide specific instruction in English, ensure teachers are competent in their subjects and require lessons in subjects like math and history. Beatrice Weber is the mother of six sons who all attended yeshivas, or schools for boys who belong to the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish sect. Some of these yeshivas teach students almost completely in Yiddish and focus on religious studies, even though laws require a minimum of instructional time in English language and core academic subjects every day. Weber's 9-year-old son attends one such Hasidic yeshiva in Brooklyn, where she says he can read English better than the teacher.

BEATRICE WEBER: By the time they were in third grade, the teachers would reach out to my son to do the reading for them. Recently, the teacher had to ask my son to read words such as look, L-O-O-K; long, L-O-N-G.

CHANG: It's these conditions that have alarmed observers like Naftuli Moster of Young Advocates for Fair Education, which lobbies for better secular education in private schools. Moster estimated there are 65,000 students in New York state alone who attend private schools that don't meet state education standards.

NAFTULI MOSTER: That means that tens of thousands of children in New York state go through their entire schooling never, ever having learned the basics of science or social studies, history, civics - none of that whatsoever.

CHANG: While New York has had a law since 1894 requiring all private schools to provide an education that's substantially equivalent to that of public schools, enforcement has been spotty. Schools now have three years to comply with the rules. Critics have called the regulations government overreach. One group, Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, said that families have chosen to send their children to religious schools because, they said, they believe in the mission and educational approach of those schools' leaders.

For NPR News, I'm Sophia Chang in New York City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.