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.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

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.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.