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Religious Consumers and Institutional Challenges to American Public Schools: Cases from Jewish Education

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The paradigm of American K–12 education is shifting as the institution of local educational polities, each responsible for its own “common schools,” faces competition from programs of school choice. Although charter schools and related reforms are generally studied in terms of quality and equity, the rise of consumer sovereignty as an alternative to political sovereignty as an organizing principle for educational governance has much wider rami­fications. Paradigms of choice have already begun dramatically to alter religious education and its relationship to public schooling. Moreover, because these paradigms rely upon consumer preferences and the aggregation of those preferences by markets, the shape of religious activity in state-subsidized schools will be determined increasingly by consumers and producers – parents and schools – rather than by political actors. Government is likely to find its ability to limit and guide religion/school interactions substantially, and increas­ingly, constrained. In making this argument, this paper draws primarily upon examples from a small but instructive religious sector in American K–12 education, that of Jewish education. It discusses the direct deployment of the charter-school form to provide Jewish education. It then assesses ways in which shifts in the public framing of education from one of politics to one of markets has transformed public school politics in school districts dominated by Orthodox Jews.

Affiliations: 1: Fordham University School of Law,


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