Jewish Leaders of the Education Debate

Four Key Players Who Can Change Our Nation's Schools


By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published February 11, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
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Jews dominate the debate over how to fix America’s schools. They run the teachers unions, fund the activist groups and hold some of the key political positions.

They all want to change public education. They disagree bitterly, however, on how to do so.

On one side, a coalition of wealthy donors and politicians has sought to shake up the entrenched public education bureaucracy, often targeting the teachers unions, which they say reject accountability and impose high costs through inflexible contracts.

On the other side, union officials and activists fight back against what they see as efforts to blame teachers. They argue that underfunding and broader social conditions are the real reasons for poor student performance.

A few decades ago, when public schools were filled with Jewish teachers, the Jewish position in this clash would have been obvious. The teachers unions were to all intents and purposes Jewish institutions — a largely Jewish rank-and-file headed by a Jewish leadership. The union position was the Jewish position.

Today, that’s changed. Jews do still have influence on the labor side. But Jews are also overrepresented among the politicians and businessmen who take issue with the unions’ role in the classroom.

Two Jewish teachers founded the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, the largest charter school network in the United States. Jewish billionaire Eli Broad has spent heavily through his charitable foundation on education reform efforts, as has Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. But they are just a few of the big Jewish names fighting over the future of American public education.

Here, by way of an orientation to the debate, the Forward offers short bios on the top four Jews with a stake in the public education war.


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