Teachers are the key to unlocking the potential of our education system; the rest is just details. This was the dominant theme at the first annual Education Now conference held Tuesday at Ono Academic College in Kiryat Ono.

The conference brought together a meeting of the minds to deal with current issues facing educators and students.

Headlining the conference was former education minister Gideon Sa’ar. He opened the conference by declaring that the starting monthly salary for teachers must be raised to NIS 8,000, which was met with enthusiastic applause.

“Education is the true security. Excellent education at all levels, from kindergarten all the way to university will ensure the country’s future,” he said, sharing his vision of how he would improve the education system, starting with how teachers are recruited and trained.

President Reuven Rivlin addressed the polarization in society, noting that “already half of Israeli society does not serve in the IDF, and we must educate those who will be our leaders in the coming decades.

“The price that society pays is felt more now than ever before – not only in the classrooms but also in the public discourse that often feeds on the mutual hesitation, we feel it in the soccer stadiums and the television studios. It is clear that schools play a significant role in this mission, and an education system that does not undertake creating a common infrastructure will not perform its function to the end – regardless of how advanced or excellent it is,” the president concluded.

The conference speakers emphasized that better teachers is the most important step in ensuring a stronger education.

Suggesting tactics such as recruiting teachers more effectively, the idea of making teaching an “exclusive” field and teaching them how to be inclusive, was some of the points reiterated throughout the day.

Andreas Schleicher, educational branch department head for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, addressed the audience by video stressing the importance of the teacher in the 21st century: “It’s not about looking at the administration it’s about looking at the teachers so that every student benefits from learning.”

He said that on a global level, today’s teachers are met with greater challenges and need to be prepared for “jobs that don’t exist yet and solve problems that haven’t happened yet.”

His vision of an ideal teacher is for he or she to be “lifelong learners. They must be passionate and compassionate and thoughtful enough to ensure that all students feel valued and included.”

The list of demands sounds almost too good to be true, recognizing this, he concluded: “Make it financially attractive, that’s pretty straightforward, but to make it intellectually attractive, that is the challenge.”

Dalit Stauber, former director- general of Education Ministry and current strategic consultant for the Academic Faculty at Ono Academic College, told The Jerusalem Post the institution is “teaching thousands of people education and many are going into the system and it’s a very important thing to demonstrate that this is an important strategic issue.”

In one of the panel discussion titled “How to Change the Classroom,” high school teacher Hadas Leor Osher from Petah Tikva emphasized her desire to strive for the “gold standard.”

Alluding to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, she stressed the urgency of having her own classroom, a place where she can engage her students, for her lessons to come alive, a place for inspiration and access to digital information. “I love teaching, I love my students and I need the tools and the resources to be the best so that i can give the best.”

Osher also felt that teachers need to become an integral part of pedagogical decisions and “not treated as if they are peons nor as a vessel to pass information from the administration to the students.”

She then told the Post that “there’s a huge gap between dream and the conditions to fulfill this dream.”

Another point stressed throughout the conference was that “the future is now.”

With many speakers sharing their vision for the future of Israeli education, Zvika Peleg, Sci-Tech Schools director-general, shared his vision of an 11-year matriculation, which will be piloted this upcoming school year in selected high schools.

Sa’ar, who wholeheartedly supports this advancement explained to the Post: Israelis enter the workforce at later ages than in other countries, “and this affects our time at work and our pension savings and now we are about to hit a huge pension crisis because” people are living longer.

He believes that better education will create conditions for moving into the workforce earlier, adding that “it’s a good idea to consider improving this before it gets worse.”


Why Charter Schools Have Lost Support from Democrats


Netroots Nation is arguably the most important annual event in the progressive community, and a barometer of what’s on the minds of the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” At this year’s event in Atlanta, the headline-making happening was Democratic primary candidate for Georgia governor Rep. Stacey Evans being shouted down by protesters holding signs saying, “Stacey Evans = Betsy DeVos” and “School Vouchers ≠ Progressive.”

Protesters circulated leaflets comparing Evans’ past votes on education-related bills to positions DeVos espouses. This included her support for a constitutional amendment in 2015 that would allow the state to convert public schools to charter school management, her support for a “Parent Trigger” that would allow petition drives to convert public schools to charters, and her support of a school voucher program.

After Evans was shouted down, National Education Association vice president Becky Pringle took the stage and demanded progressives “stand in the gap for our children” when conservatives slash education budgets and attack the most vulnerable students in public schools. She received several standing ovations.

Jeff Bryant talked with Pringle about the significance of the protests and the possibility of a powerful new education movement emerging from the progressive community.

Jeff Bryant: Let’s talk about what preceded your speech. Many of the signs the protesters carried addressed school vouchers. Why was that?

Becky Pringle: This progressive crowd understands that vouchers are a scheme to suck money out of public education and funnel it to wealthy people like our current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. This crowd is not cool by that, and they have been long time opponents to vouchers. They have more recently begun to understand the nuances of charter schools.

JB: I’ve had plenty of conversations at Netroots Nation about charter schools, and we will get to that. But I want to call attention to one aspect of vouchers we should address because Georgia has what it calls a tax credit scholarshipprogram that people defend by saying it’s different from vouchers.

BP: It’s vouchers by another name. There are many names, euphemisms, for vouchers. Proponents of vouchers have learned over the years to use different names, but once you expose that, then they move on to different names. They’re very good at evolving their message, but you’re talking about taxpayer money being used to fund private schools, and that flies in the face of what public education is supposed to be.

JB: So about charters, Stacey Evans was one of 11 Democrats to vote in favor of Amendment One that would have established the Opportunity School District that would have facilitated state empowered conversion of public schools to charter school management. The Amendment was eventually defeated in a November referendum. Is Evans out of step with most Democrats on that?

BP: The NEA worked really hard with our Georgia affiliate to expose what the OSD is designed to do, and we were successful. We mobilized against a lot of big money to send a very simple message that we need to support our public schools and make sure that every public school is as good as our best public school.

JB: Why haven’t Democrats always been behind that simple message?

BP: People say, we can’t do it; it’s too much money; we can’t make education equitable for all kids. So instead, we get into these false conversations about other initiatives. We too often adopt the false language of “failing schools,” when we should instead be talking about how we as a society have failed our students.

JB: Along with that false conversation about failing public schools, another conversation I often hear among Democrats is that we need charter schools because they offer some black families the only way to escape failed schools. How would you address that?

BP: It is a challenge for our progressive allies who don’t see the long-term impact of this narrative about the need to rescue black families, one at a time, from their inequitably resourced schools. But if that story really is true – which we could argue – then what it’s saying is that we’re going to support and continue to build a system that is still inequitable, a system in which we’re going to decide what some students will get and others won’t. Also, if the story really were true, in what scenario are the students who get left behind getting what they need? Even if we agree that charter schools are the best option for black families – and we have data that say that’s not always true – we know that having these charters puts into place a process where there are winners and losers.

JB: I get what you’re saying, that the process of school choice doesn’t take into account the welfare of all black families, but isn’t it right to save some of them?

BP: Approaching the problem of inequity by creating options for just some families is exactly the wrong way because you’re accepting the premise that we can’t educate all children.

JB: Does that mean NEA is anti-charter?

BP: We’re not opposed to charter schools. We have started charter schools, and we have members in charter schools. But charters need to have specific criteria. They need to be accountable, controlled by democratically elected boards, and have transparency. And –an important condition often overlooked – they need to be part of the system, not separate. They should be part of a system of education that makes sure every student gets what they need to thrive. We have examples of that.

JB: Is that what you mean by the ‘nuance’ of charter schools that progressives are finally coming around to?

BP: Progressives at their core share a lot of the same values. But we need to dig down into what it is progressives think charter schools are doing, even for that black family who declares charter schools are working for them. Progressives need to understand that expanding charters is fraught with all kinds of unintended consequences that even those behind the expansions for the right reasons often don’t see. What we’re seeing is that even in communities where some families have benefitted from charters, like in New Orleans, charter schools are breaking the community apart, and when that happens, the community is not fighting together for its collective good. This diminishes the power of a collective community’s ability to demand what it needs for kids.

JB: At Netroots, we’ve heard a lot about drawing lines in the sand where if Democrats cross, they’re no longer a progressive. For instance, any candidate who comes here and is not pro-choice on women’s reproductive rights is going to have a hard time. We seem to have a line drawn in the sand on school vouchers. But how do you tell when progressives are closer to drawing a line in the sand on all forms of public school privatization, including charters?

BP: We’re getting closer. It’s happening. What happened with the NAACP is instructive. It was not easy because Democrats are not yet united around the issue of privatization, and there are many parents in communities of color who still see charters as a way to save kids. But when the NAACP held hearings around the country, I went to the one in New York. I heard the stories, for instance, of parents of special needs students who had been thrown out of charter schools and sent back to public schools whose resources had been decimated due to the money flowing to the charters. What I saw was a rising grassroots understanding among parents that charters are not passing the smell test, and we have to fight for something better for our kids. So I think we’re on the verge of a widespread consensus that the current approach to charters is not working.

JB: What should progressives be for instead?

BP: Progressives all share a core value that all students need to be successful, and when they aren’t, we need to provide more opportunities. What progressives have lost sight of is the other core value of the collective good. Progressives are going to have to wrestle with that. I see signs they are.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Note: an earlier version of this story included a reference to the Trust Black Women protest that occurred at the same event, giving the impression that protesters were supporters of Evans’ opponent. The events were related but distinct. 

Jeff Bryant is director of the Education Opportunity Network, a partnership effort of the Institute for America’s Future and the Opportunity to Learn Campaign. He has written extensively about public education policy.

No, this isn’t the first time the majority of students admitted by Harvard University are non-white

The Boston Globe reported this week that for the first time in Harvard University’s 381-year history, the majority of the students offered admission are not white.

The Washington Post and BBC published their own version of the story, which took off on social media.

The story is correct that 50.8% of the students admitted are minorities. But it is not the first time. In fact, the proportion is down slightly from 51.4% last year.

The data are released each spring and published in the official Harvard Gazette.

Of the 2,056 candidates offered admission this year, Asian Americans comprise 22.2%, followed by African Americans at 14.6%, Latinos at 11.6%, Native Americans at 1.9% and Native Hawaiians at 0.5%.

Of the 2,037 admitted last year, the breakdown was 22.1% Asian American, 14% African American, 12.7% Latino, 2.2% Native American and 0.4% Native Hawaiian.

Harvard spokeswoman Rachael Dane said the numbers in the Gazette were accurate. She declined to comment on the various reports hailing Harvard’s minority admission numbers as record-setting this year.

At least some other Ivy League schools also made the majority of their admissions offers to non-white students, including Princeton and Cornell.

Holocaust education in Moldova is about to get (slightly) better

CHISINAU, Moldova — In a Moldovan secondary school history textbook, seven pages are devoted to the crimes of communist leader Joseph Stalin — an entire chapter with numerous photos illustrating the horrors of the gulag.

The Holocaust, on the other hand, gets a page and a half in the chapter on World War II, right after the section entitled “The Liberation of Bessarabia,” which covers the occupation of Moldova by Romanian fascists. During that time, the dictatorship deported to concentration camps about 10 percent of the country’s population — including more than 110,000 Jews and approximately 25,000 Gypsies. Less than half returned.

But Holocaust education in Moldova is about to improve. Earlier this month, the country’s Ministry of Education signed an agreement of cooperation with the Jewish community, committing to teach the Holocaust “as the ultimate form of genocide.” The July 14 agreement also stipulates that the Ministry of Education will develop new training programs for educators to help them address this difficult subject in school.

“Taking into account the increase in cases of vandalism at Moldova’s Jewish cemeteries in recent years, we cannot underscore the importance of educating the young generation in the spirit of tolerance, mutual respect, fairness and social unity in order to prevent and fight anti-Semitism, xenophobia and extremism,” said Alexandr Bilinkis, the Jewish community’s president and signatory to the agreement.

A current Moldovan textbook with a page and a half dedicated to the Holocaust. (Julie Masis/Times of Israel)

In addition to special training for history teachers, the Jewish community would like Moldovan schools to organize competitions for the best research papers on the Holocaust and to offer field trips to places connected to the Holocaust, said Elena Tsurcan, the manager at the Jewish Community of Moldova. The Jewish community would like all the schools in the country to observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, a commemoration which was officially adopted by the Moldovan government in 2015.

“We really hope there will be research paper competitions that will allow students to study the Holocaust right here in Moldova, so that, for example, in Balti they could research more about what happened in the north of Moldova,” Tsurcan said. “Also we want more days dedicated to the Holocaust [in the curriculum], so that it’s not only on January 27.”

Getting schooled

Currently, Moldovan schools devote about a day to the Holocaust in 9th grade and a second day in 12th grade, according to Irina Shihova, the curator of Moldova’s Jewish Heritage Museum.

“If someone missed that day, they wouldn’t know anything about the Holocaust at all,” Shihova said.

But the official from the Moldovan Ministry of Education who signed the agreement did not agree that the amount of time given to the Holocaust needs to be increased.

Irina Shihova. (Courtesy)

“We signed an agreement with the Jewish community on the measures we will take together to integrate the Holocaust in the educational process. We will teach about the Holocaust the same way that we teach all historical events,” said Corina Lungu, a senior consultant at the Ministry of Education who is responsible for secondary education. “I wouldn’t say that we need to pay ‘more attention’ to the Holocaust. We have a curriculum and every subject has a few hours.”

‘I wouldn’t say that we need to pay more attention to the Holocaust. We have a curriculum and every subject has a few hours’

Lungu did confirm that steps will be taken to better train teachers on how to address the Holocaust because it’s a topic that is emotionally difficult for children. She also said that an extracurricular competition on research papers dealing with the Holocaust will take place in high school as well as at the universities.

“We hope that all the schools interested in participating will be able to do so. We will start in September,” said Lungu.

The agreement between the Moldovan Ministry of Education and the Jewish Community was signed just days after a roundtable event announcing the results of a survey conducted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on what Moldovan high school students think about the Holocaust and about ethnic tolerance. The survey suggested that Moldovan teachers need extra training to address the Holocaust in the classroom, said Shihova, who attended the event.

“I understood that teachers want to teach this subject, but it’s very hard for them because they don’t know how to teach it from the psychological standpoint,” she said.

Slow progress

The Holocaust is a touchy subject in Moldova because the crimes were committed by Romanian soldiers during the fascist occupation, and Romanians are of the same ethnic group as most Moldovans. Romanian soldiers executed thousands of Jews, and ordered Jews and Gypsies on death marches and into the concentration camps.

“If they acknowledge the Holocaust, they’ll have to acknowledge that there were collaborators among the local people — not mythological fascists, but real people,” said Victor Reider, deputy director of the Jewish community of Moldova. “It’s very inconvenient to tell your citizens that their ancestors participated in this tragedy.”

Ion Duminica, a Roma representative at the Academy of Sciences in Moldova who fears the the Roma might be deported again. (Julie Masis/Times of Israel)

Another controversial issue is whether Ion Antonescu, who was Romania’s leader during WWII and executed for war crimes, only deported the Jews and Gypsies at Hitler’s orders, but ultimately refused to carry out the Final Solution by murdering all the people in the camps — or if he actually was responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

“For some, Antonescu is a hero,” Shihova said. “One time, a teacher brought children here for a Holocaust program and the teacher told me that Jews were very happy under Romanian rule and that Antonescu tried to save the Jews.”

But, Moldova’s attitude toward the Holocaust has been changing and textbooks have already been improving over time, said Ion Duminica, an ethnic Roma and the head of the ethnic minorities department at Moldova’s Academy of Sciences.

Despite its limitations, the latest textbook, published in 2013, is the first of its kind where the Holocaust is discussed as something that happened under Romanian occupation in Moldova, rather than something from Poland and Germany, said Duminica.

‘There was nothing at all about the Holocaust until 2005. In 2005, they put a photo of Auschwitz’

“There was nothing at all about the Holocaust until 2005. In 2005, they put a photo of Auschwitz,” he said. “Now there is a page and a half, but it still doesn’t say that Antonescu was put on trial [because of the part he played in the Holocaust] and that it was his fault.”

The reason that Moldova is finally coming to terms with the Holocaust is because Romania itself has done so, Duminica said. Romania changed its attitude toward the Holocaust when it entered the European Union, he explained.

“Romanian historians were invited to train our teachers, and only then our teachers understood the Holocaust. They were shocked that in Romania they teach about the Holocaust, because in our textbooks Antonescu did it at Hitler’s orders,” Duminica said. “Until then, Antonescu was a martyr who was sentenced to death by a Bolshevik court.”

‘Antonescu was a martyr who was sentenced to death by a Bolshevik court’

It is crucially important to teach about the Holocaust because attitudes toward ethnic minorities such as the Gypsies have not changed much since World War II, Dumnica said. His biggest fear is that if a new government orders to deport the Gypsies again, the people of Moldova might simply accept this order, he said.

To fight prejudice, Shihova is taking matters into her own hands.

She will train about 50 teenagers from Chisinau’s Jewish schools to explain a bit about Judaism to their peers, as well as the events of the Holocaust. The teens will travel in pairs to speak in front of classrooms all around Moldova.

The project, which starts in September, is part of the Likrat (Hebrew for “Approach”) initiative that is already in place in Switzerland, Germany in Austria. This is the first time it will be tried in Eastern Europe.

“I don’t know how it will work out,” Shihova admitted. “I really hope that the children will be polite, that at least they won’t whistle at us.”



Yad Vashem signed its first-ever memorandum of understanding with Serbia’s Education Ministry on Monday, formalizing the working relationship it has with the Serbian government.

The agreement was signed in the presence of Assistant Minister of Education Dr. Aleksandar Pajic at the conclusion of a professional development seminar at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem.

Thirty educators from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina participated in the seminar, during which Biljana Stojanovic of the Serbian Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development delivered a presentation about the ministry’s work in Holocaust education.

For many years, Serbian teachers have participated in workshops and educational seminars run by Yad Vashem for teachers and community leaders from all over the world.

“Our pedagogical approach is respected as one of the best methodologies to deal with this most sensitive topic,” said Dr. Eyal Kaminka, director of Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies, who signed the agreement on behalf of the center. “We have governmental partnerships with more than 50 countries around the world and are thrilled to officially add Serbia to this prestigious group.”

Until now, educators from Serbia who participated in seminars at Yad Vashem did so in an unofficial capacity. Now Serbian teachers will receive full accreditation for their participation and the number of seminars offered to them is set to increase.

Serbia has been one of International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s 31 member countries since 2011, and Bosnia and Herzegovina became an observer country in 2016.

Holocaust education is part of the national high-school curriculum in Serbia, integrated into courses in history, sociology, philosophy and religion.

After Serbian educators participated in teacher training in Yad Vashem, senior high-school students have conducted research projects on the life of the Jewish population in Serbia before, during and after World War II. The aim of these projects is to raise public awareness of the Holocaust, particularly among young Serbians.

Each year, the International School engages some 300,000 students, and thousands of educators, community leaders and decision-makers from around the world. It offers educational materials, teaching tools and teacher-training activities in order to develop programs suitable for diverse age groups and cultures.

A Jewish professor taught at a Catholic school in a Muslim country. Here’s what happened

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Near the end of his first year teaching American studies at the Georgetown University campus in Qatar, Gary Wasserman introduced a dozen Israelis to a dozen undergraduates from across the Middle East.

Then he left the room so the students could have an unfiltered discussion.

The one-hour meeting was part of what Wasserman calls his “liberal quest” to overcome biases — grounded, he said, in part by his Jewish upbringing.

But the encounter wasn’t exactly a success. Afterward, a Lebanese student came to his room, tears in her eyes. An Israeli had asked her during the encounter, “You hate us, don’t you?”

Wasserman in his forthcoming book “The Doha Experiment,” about his gig directing the Georgetown American studies program in Qatar from 2006 to 2014, uses the incident to identify a duality that was typical of his time on campus: the quest for connections outside of one’s comfort zone, on the one hand, combined with intense fears of people raised in radically different cultures.

“We were part of a university that provided a place to think and talk,” Wasserman said he told the Lebanese student, who had been trapped at her aunt’s house during the 2006 Lebanon War. “And while this didn’t seem like much now, it was really all we had to offer. I felt inadequate and sad.”

In this Thursday Jan. 6, 2011 file photo, a traditional dhow floats in the Corniche Bay of Doha, Qatar, with tall buildings of the financial district in the background. (AP/Saurabh Das, File)

Wasserman’s initial mission — shared by Georgetown and the Qatari government — was to bring an American-style free exchange of thought to the deeply traditionalist Gulf state.

But that expectation soon tamped down into a more limited one: that young people get a decent education and get along with folks from vastly different political cultures.

“There’s a liberal, missionary impulse that you are bringing pluralism, globalization and tolerance to a part of the world that needs it,” Wasserman, who is now retired, told JTA this week.

Within months, Wasserman wrote, his original idealism had abated — but then, so had his own fears about being a Jew in Qatar.

“I began my journey both apprehensive and idealistic,” he wrote. “I ended it less apprehensive and also less idealistic.”

About the apprehension: Wasserman, the author of a popular political science textbook who had taught at Columbia and Georgetown, appalled friends and family when he decided to go to Qatar. With the memory of the 9/11 terrorist attacks still fresh, many in his circle questioned the rationality of a Jew moving to what seemed like the belly of the beast at the time.

Their pleadings had an effect, and he consulted with a psychologist who happened to be a European Jew about how to deal with his anxieties. His sessions had a surprising denouement.

“You’re not crazy to be scared,” Wasserman quoted the psychologist as saying in their final session. “You’re crazy to go. Haven’t you been watching the news? These people hate Jews. They’re anti-Semites. I’ve dealt with these f’kakta Nazis all my life. Stay away from them. They’ll never change.”

“This went on for a while,” Wasserman wrote. “(He was being paid by the hour.)”

Nonetheless, in Qatar, Wasserman encountered barely any personal animosity because of his Jewishness. In one poignant passage, he described his concerns after his identity became common knowledge on campus — a staffer had let it slip.

“It was too easy to imagine their unspoken responses: ‘Y’know, he’s Jewish.’ ‘Yeah, I could tell.’ Or, ‘So that’s what those horns are.’ Or, ‘No wonder he flunked me,’” Wasserman wrote. “I might have overthought this. One student later said to me, after she had graduated, that the only student discussion she recalls about my religion was the worry that I might feel isolated and out of place.”

Instead, the hostility toward Jews — and Israel — was expressed in more generalized settings, particularly the conspiracy theories that proliferate in Arab countries.

Wasserman said his favorite anecdote in the book is the student who told him that another teacher had said that “the Mossad was behind 9/11, and also that 9/11 was not a bad idea.”

He asked the student how both ideas could coexist in one person’s head. The student “looked at me for a moment, resigned that yet another naïve foreigner failed to appreciate how holding two contradictory opinions at the same time was consistent with the political views permeating the region,” Wasserman wrote.

Another student, Ella, graduated at the top of the class. Shortly after, Wasserman saw an interview with Ella in a local newspaper in which she was asked for her impressions of the 2012 US election. Her “depressing” answer, as he put it: “It really didn’t matter because the Zionists controlled the banks, the media, and both political parties and wouldn’t let anything change in America.”

Perhaps Wasserman’s most foolhardy quest was to teach the students about how the pro-Israel lobby functioned as a curative to the overly expansive description of its influence in the 2007 book by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, “The Israel Lobby.” (Disclosure: This reporter and Wasserman collaborated for a period in the late 2000s on a book on the pro-Israel lobby. It found no buyers.)

“In my lecture, I tried to leave the class with a simple point: the power of the pro-Israel lobby had been inflated by supporters and opponents alike for their own reasons,” he wrote. “Although clearly a powerful player in foreign policy, AIPAC was only narrowly influential and constrained by other public and political interests.”

Did the students get the message? Not quite. Later in the book, Wasserman related that he often found that the students bought into myths of Jewish influence — but with admiration, not contempt.

Wasserman, alongside other faculty on campus, came to accept that they were not the vanguard of progressive values in Qatar. Instead, they set more modest ambitions, such as one-to-one opportunities to lend a hand to those seeking a way out of a society that was stifling, especially to women.

He wrote about a student wearing an abaya — the robe-like dress worn by some women in parts of the Muslim world — entering his office and asking him to write a letter recommending her for graduate studies in England. He was happy to — she had good grades — but she could not articulate what exactly she wanted to study, making it a challenge for him to tailor the letter to specifics that would help her.

“I don’t really want to go to graduate school,” she told him, “but if I stay in Doha, my family will make me get married. Going to London for grad school is acceptable to them. For me, it means I can put off getting married and not have to confront my parents.”

It was encounters like these that left Wasserman hopeful about bridging divides, he told JTA.

“The problem is you don’t want encounters conducted on the basis of Jew and Muslim, Christian and Buddhist, because it isolates one identity and sets up a polarity,” he said.

Bring Israelis over for a semester, not just an afternoon, he said, so they would have the time to find other commonalities with their Arab and Muslim counterparts.

“They will share things like a harsh father or questions about devotion or career goals,” he said.

‘I Quit!’ Teachers Are Fed Up—And They’re Telling the World Why


When Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Shawn Sheehan decided to leave his job as high school math teacher for a better paying position in Texas, he didn’t go quietly. Sheehan left “kicking and screaming,” warning Oklahomans that the state’s notoriously underfunded schools are teetering on the brink, even as schemes to privatize education in the state gain momentum.

In the latest episode of the Have You Heard podcast, Alternet education editor Jennifer Berkshire talks to Sheehan and other teachers who are leaving their jobs with a bang. Think resignation letters as a form of activism delivered via blog post or video, and sending a powerful message about the state of public education. And as Michigan State University researcher Alyssa Dunn explains, these very public “I Quit” letters are a sign of the time. You can hear the whole episode here.

Have You Heard:  These very public statements from teachers who are leaving the classroom are something of a trend. You argue that they’re a form of protest. Tell us more.

Alyssa Hadley Dunn: I think because so many teachers are experiencing challenging working conditions right now and so when some teachers write their resignation letters, they go viral, because people feel like they are saying what I am feeling and they are speaking for me, even if I feel like I can’t speak for myself. You hear teachers saying things like: “I feel like I have no voice when policies are handed down to me”, “I feel like I’m not as able to be creative in the classroom because my curriculum is being scripted or standardized”, and “I feel like I have to spend a lot of time teaching to the test in this era of high stakes testing and it’s not only harming my students’ learning conditions, it’s harming my working conditions.”

Have You Heard: The teachers you talked to are determined to change the system, even as they’re walking away from it.

Dunn: They feel like their hands have been tied, in terms of being the teachers that they want to be, and they feel like they’re complicit in a broken system if they stay. They’re not indicting the teachers who choose to stay, but they’re saying that “an act of activism, and an act of justice, that I can take is to leave the classroom and to tell people why I’m leaving, so that perhaps the people who stay, the administrators who stay, can use this to make changes for the better.”

Have You Heard: One of the most interesting things you found was that the letters and “I Quit” blog posts that young teachers are writing have a lot in common with teachers who are leaving the classroom after decades. Millenials often get dinged for “bailing,” but the young teachers you talked to seemed to agonize about giving up on their new careers.

Dunn: These were teachers who had really spent their whole lives thinking that they were going to be teachers and then got into the classroom and felt like it was a lot different than what they had anticipated. That was my story too. I’d wanted to be a teacher since 3rd grade. I became a high school teacher in urban schools in Atlanta and I loved my students, but I found the working conditions very challenging, because I was working in a system where it made it difficult to enact justice oriented and student focused learning. Tons of teachers do it every day, but for me, I felt like I was complicit in a system that was oppressing students, in particular students of color.

This is an edited transcript. You can hear the entire podcast here.

As Paperwork Goes Missing, Private Student Loan Debts May Be Wiped Away

Tens of thousands of people who took out private loans to pay for college but have not been able to keep up payments may get their debts wiped away because critical paperwork is missing.

The troubled loans, which total at least $5 billion, are at the center of a protracted legal dispute between the student borrowers and a group of creditors who have aggressively pursued them in court after they fell behind on payments.

Judges have already dismissed dozens of lawsuits against former students, essentially wiping out their debt, because documents proving who owns the loans are missing. A review of court records by The New York Times shows that many other collection cases are deeply flawed, with incomplete ownership records and mass-produced documentation.

Some of the problems playing out now in the $108 billion private student loan market are reminiscent of those that arose from the subprime mortgage crisis a decade ago, when billions of dollars in subprime mortgage loans were ruled uncollectible by courts because of missing or fake documentation. And like those troubled mortgages, private student loans — which come with higher interest rates and fewer consumer protections than federal loans — are often targeted at the most vulnerable borrowers, like those attending for-profit schools.

At the center of the storm is one of the nation’s largest owners of private student loans, the National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts. It is struggling to prove in court that it has the legal paperwork showing ownership of its loans, which were originally made by banks and then sold to investors. National Collegiate’s lawyers warned in a recent legal filing, “As news of the servicing issues and the trusts’ inability to produce the documents needed to foreclose on loans spreads, the likelihood of more defaults rises.”

National Collegiate is an umbrella name for 15 trusts that hold 800,000 private student loans, totaling $12 billion. More than $5 billion of that debt is in default, according to court filings. The trusts aggressively pursue borrowers who fall behind on their bills. Across the country, they have brought at least four new collection cases each day, on average — more than 800 so far this year — and tens of thousands of lawsuits in the past five years.

Last year, National Collegiate unleashed a fusillade of litigation against Samantha Watson, a 33-year-old mother of three who graduated from Lehman College in the Bronx in 2013 with a degree in psychology.

Ms. Watson, the first in her family to go to college, took out private loans to finance her studies. But she said she had trouble following the fine print. “I didn’t really understand about things like interest rates,” she said. “Everybody tells you to go to college, get an education, and everything will be O.K. So that’s what I did.”

Ms. Watson made some payments on her loans but fell behind when her daughter got sick and she had to quit her job as an executive assistant. She now works as a nurse’s aide, with more flexible hours but a smaller paycheck that barely covers her family’s expenses.

When National Collegiate sued her, the paperwork it submitted was a mess, according to her lawyer, Kevin Thomas of the New York Legal Assistance Group. At one point, National Collegiate presented documents saying that Ms. Watson had enrolled at a school she never attended, Mr. Thomas said.

“I tried to be honest,” Ms. Watson said of her court appearance. “I said, ‘Some of these loans I took out, and I’ll be responsible for them, but some I didn’t take.’”

In her defense, Ms. Watson’s lawyer seized upon what he saw as the flaws in National Collegiate’s paperwork. Judge Eddie McShan of New York City’s Civil Court in the Bronx agreed and dismissed four lawsuits against Ms. Watson. The trusts “failed to establish the chain of title” on Ms. Watson’s loans, he wrote in one ruling.

When the judge’s rulings wiped out $31,000 in debt, “it was such a relief,” Ms. Watson said. “You just feel this whole weight lifted. My mom started to cry.”

Donald Uderitz, the founder of Vantage Capital Group, a private equity firm that is the beneficial owner of National Collegiate’s trusts. “We don’t want National Collegiate to be the poster boy of bad practices in student loan collections,” he said. CreditTony Luong for The New York Times

Joel Leiderman, a lawyer at Forster and Garbus, the law firm that represented National Collegiate in its litigation against Ms. Watson, declined to comment on the lawsuits.

Lawsuits Tossed Out

Judges throughout the country, including recently in cases in New HampshireOhio and Texas, have tossed out lawsuits by National Collegiate, ruling that it did not prove it owned the debt on which it was trying to collect.

The trusts win many of the lawsuits they file automatically, because borrowers often do not show up to fight. Those court victories, which can be used to garnish paychecks and federal benefits like Social Security, can haunt borrowers for decades.

The loans that National Collegiate holds were made to college students more than a decade ago by dozens of different banks, then bundled together by a financing company and sold to investors through a process known as securitization. These private loans were not guaranteed by the federal government, which is the nation’s largest student loan lender.

But as the debt passed through many hands before landing in National Collegiate’s trusts, critical paperwork documenting the loans’ ownership disappeared, according to documents that have surfaced in a little-noticed legal battle involving the trusts in state and federal courts in Delaware and Pennsylvania.

National Collegiate’s legal problems have hinged on its inability to prove it owns the student loans, not on any falsification of documents.

Robyn Smith, a lawyer with the National Consumer Law Center, a nonprofit advocacy group, has seen shoddy and inaccurate paperwork in dozens of cases involving private student loans from a variety of lenders and debt buyers, which she detailed in a 2014 report.

But National Collegiate’s problems are especially acute, she said. Over and over, she said, the company drops lawsuits — often on the eve of a trial or deposition — when borrowers contest them. “I question whether they actually possess the documents necessary to show that they own loans,” Ms. Smith said.

In an unusual situation, one of the financiers behind National Collegiate’s trusts agrees with some of the criticism. He is Donald Uderitz, the founder of Vantage Capital Group, a private equity firm in Delray Beach, Fla., that is the beneficial owner of National Collegiate’s trusts. (Mr. Uderitz’s company keeps whatever money is left after the trusts’ noteholders are paid off.)

He said he was appalled by National Collegiate’s collection lawsuits and wanted them to stop, but an internal struggle between Vantage Capital and others involved in operating the trusts has prevented him from ordering a halt, he said

“We don’t like what’s going on,” Mr. Uderitz said in a recent interview.

“We don’t want National Collegiate to be the poster boy of bad practices in student loan collections, but we have no ability to affect it except through this litigation,” he said, referring to a lawsuit that he initiated last year against the trusts’ loan servicer in Delaware’s Chancery Court, a popular battleground for corporate legal fights.

Ballooning Balances

Like those who took on subprime mortgages, many people with private student loans end up shouldering debt that they never earn enough to repay. Borrowing to finance higher education is an economic decision that often pays off, but federal student loans — a much larger market, totaling $1.3 trillion — are directly funded by the government and come with consumer protections like income-based repayment options.

Private loans lack that flexibility, and they often carry interest rates that can reach double digits. Because of those steep rates, the size of the loans can quickly balloon, leaving borrowers to pay hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of dollars each month.

Others are left with debt for degrees they never completed, because the for-profit colleges they enrolled in closed amid allegations of fraud. Federal student borrowers can apply for a discharge in those circumstances, but private borrowers cannot.

Jason Mason was sued over $11,000 in student loans, but the case was dismissed. “It was a scary time,” he said of being taken to court. CreditAriana Drehsler for The New York Times

Other large student lenders, like Sallie Mae, also pursue delinquent borrowers in court, but National Collegiate stands apart for its size and aggressiveness, borrowers’ lawyers say.

Lawsuits against borrowers who have fallen behind on their consumer loans are typically filed in state or local courts, where records are often hard to search. This means that there is no national tally of just how often National Collegiate’s trusts have gone to court.

Very few cases ever make it to trial, according to court records and borrowers’ lawyers. Once borrowers are sued, most either choose to settle or ignore the summons, which allows the trusts to obtain a default judgment.

“It’s a numbers game,” said Richard D. Gaudreau, a lawyer in New Hampshire who has defended against several National Collegiate lawsuits. “My experience is they try to bully you at first, and then if you’re not susceptible to that, they back off, because they don’t really want to litigate these cases.”

Transworld Systems, a debt collector, brings most of the lawsuits for National Collegiate against delinquent borrowers. And in legal filings, it is usually a Transworld representative who swears to the accuracy of the records backing up the loan. Transworld did not respond to a request for comment.

Hundreds of cases have been dismissed when borrowers challenge them, according to lawyers, often because the trusts do not produce the paperwork needed to proceed.

‘We Need Answers’

Jason Mason, 35, was sued over $11,243 in student loans he took out to finance his freshman year at California State University, Dominguez Hills. His lawyer, Joe Villaseñor of the Legal Aid Society of San Diego, got the case dismissed in 2013, after the trust’s representative did not show up for a court-ordered deposition. It is unclear if the trusts had the paperwork they would have needed to prove their case, Mr. Villaseñor said.

“It was a scary time,” Mr. Mason said of being taken to court. “I didn’t know how they would come after me, or seize whatever I had, to get the money.”

Nancy Thompson, a lawyer in Des Moines, represented students in at least 30 cases brought by National Collegiate in the past few years. All were dismissed before trial except three. Of those, Ms. Thompson won two and lost one, according to her records. In every case, the paperwork Transworld submitted to the court had critical omissions or flaws, she said.

National Collegiate’s beneficial owner, Mr. Uderitz, hired a contractor in 2015 to audit the servicing company that bills National Collegiate’s borrowers each month and is supposed to maintain custody of many loan documents critical for collection cases.

A random sample of nearly 400 National Collegiate loans found not a single one had assignment paperwork documenting the chain of ownership, according to a report they had prepared.

While Mr. Uderitz wants to collect money from students behind on their bills, he says he wants the lawsuits against borrowers to stop, at least until he can get more information about the documentation that underpins the loans.

“It’s fraud to try to collect on loans that you don’t own,” Mr. Uderitz said. “We want no part of that. If it’s a loan we’re owed fairly, we want to collect. We need answers on this.”

Keith New, a spokesman for the servicer, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (known to borrowers as American Education Services), said, “We believe that the auditors were misinformed about the scope of P.H.E.A.A.’s contractual obligations. We are confident that the litigation will reveal that the agency has acted properly and in accordance with its agreements.”

The legal wrangling — now playing out in three separate court cases in Pennsylvania and Delaware — has dragged on for more than a year, with no imminent resolution in sight. Borrowers are caught in the turmoil. Thousands of them are unable to get answers about critical aspects of their loans because none of the parties involved can agree on who has the authority to make decisions. Some 2,000 borrower requests for forbearance and other help have gone unanswered, according to a court filing late last year.

School Ditches Common Core Then Soars To #1 In English Language Arts


Renegade Editor’s Note: Did you know that Dr. David Pook said he helped write Common Core in order to fight White privilege? Could you guess that he is jewish?

By Alex Pietrowski

The federally mandated, nationally standardized education program Common Core has many parents and teachers concerned. For starters, it imposes rigorous testing onto students, forcing curriculums to be molded around exams, not necessarily around learning or the development of critical thinking. Additionally, Common Core is part of a system developed by corporations and aims to prepare children for the life of being an employee, not a change-maker.

The program is causing friction around the nation, and a slow-burn rebellion of sorts is underway. In 2015, 4th grader Sydney Smoot made national headlines when she eloquently ripped standardized testing at a school board meeting.

So what happens to a school and the students therein when Common Core is abandoned altogether?

Mason Classical Academy (MCA), a charter school in Naples, Florida has been applauded for its testing results in English Language Arts after the school ditched Common Core.

In a letter to parents of MCA, principal David Hull explained the dilemma facing the school and its students:

There is, however, a serious conundrum we face as a classical, public charter school: Not only are we to use our own curriculum and offer a different choice than the regular public schools, but we are also mandated to pass the state test. This begs some questions. Which is more critical, a solid education or passing state tests? Can we accomplish delivering both? Is it ethical to focus more on state standards than a rigorous curriculum influenced by one of the most prestigious colleges in the world, Hillsdale College? Are we able to accomplish our mission with state mandates and Common Core breathing down our necks? Do we have our students practice for state tests on computers because tests are now computer-based? Are our students at an automatic disadvantage because we choose paper and pencil over keyboards and mice? These are difficult questions to answer, and ones that will be revealed only by time. [Source]

To confront this issue head on, the school tried something of which many others should take notice. It developed its own educational standards based on proper discipline on the part of students, respectful dedication on the part of teachers, and a platform of virtues that have historically been prevalent in classical education.

Character traits such as respect, integrity, citizenship, and responsibility are not only explicitly taught during assemblies, but are embedded throughout classical literature, history, and fine arts instruction. Where are those standards mandated by the state? [Source]

Among this programmatic shift at MCA was a return to phonics-based learning when teaching young children how to read. Common Core has been widely criticized for complicating the process by which children learn to read, confusing them by making them memorize whole words before learning how to read sounds and recognize syllables. In short, Common Core abandons phonics-based learning, and when MCA returned to this approach, the results were outstanding.

It was hardly surprising, either, to learn that students at MCA were at the top across Florida as well. Third graders at MCA were in the top 2 percent in the state. In fifth grade, MCA students were in the top 1 percent for Florida. The results speak for themselves. [Source]


Thanks to the classical approach of phonics, an impressive 90 percent of the third-grade students at Mason Classical Academy were proficient in English Language Arts, compared to just 58 percent in the county overall, most of whom rely on Common Core. In fact, the MCA third-graders were in Florida’s top two percent, while fifth graders from the academy ranked in the state’s top one percent. [Source]

In today’s conformist culture it is no surprise that MCA has been attacked by others for their willingness to take control of their own standards, even though the results speak for themselves.

Final Thoughts

For those serious about exposing Common Core, its clear that as a conspiracy, the program appears to be designed to crush divergent thinking, offering an inroad into the minds of our children which is to be exploited by the interests of the State.

Common core children are not allowed to synthesize latent creativity, and they spend little time in nature. They also are not given an inspiring human mentor, as much as a by-the-book curriculum regurgitating ‘teacher’ who has also been dumbed down by the educational system. This person is more concerned, through their own educational brainwashing, to apply the latest psychological theories, without truly teaching a child to be on fire for learning.

Intelligence agencies also infiltrate the educational system in order to train and recruit future elite personnel. People are chosen based on their ability to follow orders, not diverge from the transhumanist agenda. Common core is a massive take-over of the educational system, similar to the takeover of the agricultural system, our water, our banking system, etc. In short, it benefits the military industrial complex and a handful of corporations, not your children’s budding intellectual genius. [Source]

How long will it be before other schools in America see the light and follow MCA in ditching Common Core?

Alex Pietrowski is an artist and writer concerned with preserving good health and the basic freedom to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. He is a staff writer for and Offgrid Outpost,

Deep Partisan Divide on Higher Education

Republicans have soured on higher education, with more than half now saying that colleges have a negative impact on the United States.

An annual survey by the Pew Research Center on Americans’ views of national institutions, released this week, found a dramatic attitude shift on higher education among Republicans and people who lean Republican, with the change occurring across most demographic and ideological groups.

Two years ago, 54 percent of Republicans said colleges had a positive impact on the country’s direction, with 37 percent rating higher education negatively. That ratio shifted to 43 percent positive and 45 percent negative last year.

The latest version of the survey, conducted last month among 2,504 adults, for the first time found a majority (58 percent) of Republicans saying colleges have a negative effect, compared to 36 percent saying they have a positive effect.

A gradual increase in the number of Democrats and Democratic leaners who view higher education positively helped counterbalance the increasingly negative take by Republicans. In the latest version of the survey, 72 percent of Democrats viewed colleges positively (up from 65 percent in 2010) compared to a negative response from 19 percent this year.

Pew also found an increasing partisan divide on views about the national news media, although not as rapid a shift as Republicans’ take on higher education.

The public’s overall views on national institutions — including churches, banks and labor unions — did not change much in this latest installment. On higher education, 55 percent of all respondents had a positive view.

The partisan stratification is apparent even within the GOP. Nearly two-thirds of conservative Republicans (65 percent) said colleges have a negative impact, compared to 43 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans.

Viewers of right-leaning news media might not be surprised by Pew’s findings. Virtually every day Fox News, Breitbart and other conservative outlets run critical articles about free speech disputes on college campuses, typically with coverage focused on the perceived liberal orthodoxy and political correctness in higher education.

For example, Breitbart on Monday riffed on a report from The New York Times about a 35 percent enrollment decline at the University of Missouri at Columbia in the two years since racially charged protests occurred at the flagship university.

Bogus right-wing outlets also often target higher education. A fictitious story about California college students cutting off their genitals to protest Trump’s Mexican border wall plan recently made the rounds on purported news sites and social media.

In addition, Republican politicians in recent years have pushed back on the four-year degree, saying that not all jobs require the credential. Some also question the value of four-year degrees and criticize increasing college tuition levels.

Research has shown, however, that a healthy majority of faculty members and students in higher education skew liberal, particularly at four-year institutions. And debates over the value of college tend to revolve around four-year institutions.

Whatever the cause, a wide range of Republican voters are buying in to skepticism about higher education.

Younger Republicans tend to be much more positive, with 44 percent of 18- to 49-year-olds saying colleges have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country. And more than half (52 percent) of Republicans aged 18 to 29 view colleges positively.

Even so, the share of Republicans under 50 who have a positive view of higher education has fallen by a whopping 21 percentage points since 2015.

Likewise, positive views of colleges among Republicans who hold a college or graduate degree declined by 11 percentage points, from 44 percent to 33 percent, during the last two years. It dropped by 20 percentage points (from 57 percent to 37 percent) among Republicans who do not have a college degree.

Based on income levels, Republicans are less positive about higher education the more money they make. Just 31 percent of those who earn at least $75,000 a year in family income view colleges positively, compared to 34 percent in the $30,000 to $74,999 range. And 46 percent of Republicans making less than $30,000 gave higher education positive marks.

Democrats tend to view colleges positively, with the survey finding comparable majorities across age, education and income. However, Democrats have a different dynamic than Republicans when income is factored in, with wealthier respondents viewing higher education more positively than their lower-income peers.

The findings are both a wake-up call and an opportunity to ask better questions about conservatives’ waning confidence in higher education, said Alison Kadlec, senior vice president and director of higher education and work force engagement for Public Agenda.

“Is the precipitous drop in conservative regard for postsecondary education reflecting a decline in confidence in higher education attainment as a sure path to socioeconomic mobility, or is this more about perceptions of ‘liberal bias’ in higher education among conservatives?” she said via email. “Are these attitudes more an expression of backlash against rising cost of college and student debt load, and the accompanying belief that colleges are businesses that care more about their bottom line than students (as we’ve found in our research), or is this about the rise of an emboldened anti-intellectualism in the wake of the last presidential election?”