Yeshiva Children, Subpar Education? Perhaps in NY There Will be an Answer

Nuftali Moster founded Young Advocates for Fair Education, the group that sued the city’s Department of Education in a push for more secular instruction in yeshivas. Credit: Bryan Thomas for The New York Times

Do Children Get a Subpar Education in Yeshivas? New York Says It Will Finally Find Out

In parts of New York City, there are students who can barely read and write in English and have not been taught that dinosaurs once roamed Earth or that the Civil War occurred.

Some of them are in their last year of high school.

That is the claim made by a group of graduates from ultra-Orthodox Jewish private schools called yeshivas, and they say that startling situation has been commonplace for decades.

Over three years ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration opened an investigation into a lack of secular education at yeshivas that serve about 57,000 students in the city, but the probe essentially stalled almost as soon as it began. The reason, advocates say, is the city’s politicians, including the mayor, are fearful of angering the Orthodox Jewish community that represents a crucial voting bloc in major elections.

Then the state stepped in with the most significant action yet in the probe. MaryEllen Elia, the state education commissioner, released updated ruleson Nov. 20 dictating how nonpublic schools like yeshivas are regulated and what students in those schools should learn, with consequences for schools that do not comply.

The guidance could force yeshivas to change how they operate and what they teach. It will also hold Mr. de Blasio’s feet to the fire, as his administration is forced to ramp up its investigation into the schools.

“There’s no time to waste,” said Naftuli Moster, the founder of Young Advocates for Fair Education, which pushes for more secular instruction in yeshivas. “New York City has already been dragging its feet for three years.”

The city’s yeshiva probe began in 2015, after Mr. Moster’s group filed a complaint claiming that scores of students — boys, in particular — graduate from ultra-Orthodox yeshivas unprepared for work or higher education, with little exposure to nonreligious classes like science and history. Instead, some yeshiva graduates say, students spend most school days studying Jewish texts. Younger boys sometimes attend about 90 minutes of nonreligious classes at the end of the day, a city report found.

A coalition of prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis and community members have accused critics of yeshivas of attacking religious freedoms.

“This is a smear campaign against our community and what it stands for,” said David Niederman, a rabbi and the president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg. “If some people are not happy with what they are taught, it is up to them to take action.”

Avi Schick, a lawyer for Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, a group formed after the 2015 investigation was opened, said, “The intrusive set of requirements imposed by the state demolishes the wall between church and state that politicians have hid behind for decades.”

This past summer, the organization, known as Pearls, handed out 10,000 posters and bumper stickers emblazoned with the hashtag #ProtectYeshivas to parents of children in Orthodox Jewish schools.

The state’s guidance places the burden of investigating the schools on Mr. de Blasio’s administration.

City officials are now required to visit all nonpublic schools by the end of 2021 — which will coincide with the end of Mr. de Blasio’s second term — and visit each school every five years after that. If officials find that the schools are not providing an education that is “substantially equivalent” to what public schools offer, the city can give schools more time and resources to add secular teaching. If that does not work, the city can withhold some funding it provides private schools.

In an interview, the city schools chancellor, Richard A. Carranza, said that he had requested training for Department of Education employees who will visit the schools, and that he would prioritize visits to a half-dozen yeshivas he claimed have barred city officials from entry. After that, he plans to send staffers to several dozen other yeshivas that were listed on the 2015 complaint as having insufficient secular education.

This is going to be a robust kind of a visit, and a robust looking into all the nonpublic schools,” Mr. Carranza said. “The mayor has made it really clear from Day 1 for me that he wants us to move aggressively and get this taken care of.”

Though complaints about academics have focused on New York City’s yeshivas, the guidance applies to all nonpublic schools in the state, which has raised alarm bells for other groups.

“We remain gravely concerned over the process, which will likely lend itself to an inconsistent and subjective review of many schools,” Jim Cultrara, the director for education at the New York State Catholic Conference, said in an interview.

The mayor’s handling of the yeshiva investigation will now be monitored not only by the state, but also by those concerned about Mr. de Blasio’s recent dismissal of Mark G. Peters, the former Department of Investigations chief.

After he was fired, Mr. Peters confirmed that his department was looking into whether City Hall interfered with the city Education Department’s inquiry into yeshivas in an effort to maintain ties with the Orthodox community. The issue has since been elevated, and there is a question of whether the mayor sought to tamp down probes into his own administration.

Mr. de Blasio’s pick to replace Mr. Peters, Margaret M. Garnett, was already quizzed at a recent City Council hearing about whether she will continue the probe into City Hall’s handling of the yeshiva investigation. She said in an interview with The Times that she would not “tolerate or accept interference” in any queries involving the mayor.

Advocates for more secular education in yeshivas found reason to celebrate last month, when Democrats seized a commanding majority in the New York State Senate.

The Senate flip robbed Senator Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat, of an enviable swing vote that he used last year to add protections for yeshivas in the 11th hour of state budget negotiations. Young Advocates for Fair Education, Mr. Moster’s group, has sued the state over the so-called Felder amendment, calling it unconstitutional.

Mr. Felder, who represents Orthodox enclaves of Brooklyn, declined to comment.

Still, enormous obstacles remain for those who want the city to shine a spotlight on yeshivas.

Few if any politicians in Albany or downstate are willing to anger the Orthodox political establishment. Urgent problems in the city’s 1,800 public schools — including ballooning student homelessness and entrenched racial segregation — will take precedence over issues in religious schools that the city does not run.

To read the remainder of the article with the New York Times click here.

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Ultra-Orthodox Parents Caring for their Children’s futures Being Shunned by Community… Extremism

Orthodox parents risk being shunned for pulling kids from yeshivas

Some ultra-Orthodox Jewish families have yanked their children out of yeshivas, and risked being shunned by their communities, to give their kids a chance at a better secular education.

The efforts come even as New York state last month announced new guidelines to beef up the nonreligious curriculum within the yeshiva system.

One father raising his son in a ­Hasidic Brooklyn neighborhood enrolled the 6-year-old in a co-ed Jewish academy — something almost unheard of in the ultra-Orthodox world — for the 2018-2019 school year. As a result, the father claims, he was fired from his development job after someone in the community complained.

He explained that his boss was sympathetic but couldn’t risk losing business.

“I was there a long time,” he said. “But I knew the risk when I pulled my son out.”

After three years at yeshiva, the boy remained deficient in secular areas including basic reading, said the Brooklyn dad.

“Now he’s learning. And [being] creative — his new school fosters that,” said the father who, like other parents interviewed by The Post, asked that his name be withheld for fear of further community retaliation. “In yeshiva it was, ‘follow the rules, stay in place, and don’t stand out.’

“This [new] education will give my son a fair chance.”

As part of the state’s ruling, the New York City Department of Education is giving yeshivas three years to clean up their act, demanding that the religious schools ensure a curriculum “substantially equivalent” to that of public schools. But some Orthodox officials are resistant.

In a speech on Wednesday in East Williamsburg, Satmar Rebbe Aron Teitelbaum called for defiance of regulations.

“If the commissioner of education wants to fix education in the state of New York, he can go to the public schools and fix the education being offered there,” said Teitelbaum in a speech translated from Yiddish. “The Jewish nation will not bow or give in to the wicked, not even the commissioner of education . . . we will go out to war against the commissioner in every way.”

Some ultra-Orthodox Jewish families have yanked their children out of yeshivas, and risked being shunned by their communities, to give their kids a chance at a better secular education.

The efforts come even as New York state last month announced new guidelines to beef up the nonreligious curriculum within the yeshiva system.

One father raising his son in a ­Hasidic Brooklyn neighborhood enrolled the 6-year-old in a co-ed Jewish academy — something almost unheard of in the ultra-Orthodox world — for the 2018-2019 school year. As a result, the father claims, he was fired from his development job after someone in the community complained.

He explained that his boss was sympathetic but couldn’t risk losing business.

“I was there a long time,” he said. “But I knew the risk when I pulled my son out.”

After three years at yeshiva, the boy remained deficient in secular areas including basic reading, said the Brooklyn dad.

“Now he’s learning. And [being] creative — his new school fosters that,” said the father who, like other parents interviewed by The Post, asked that his name be withheld for fear of further community retaliation. “In yeshiva it was, ‘follow the rules, stay in place, and don’t stand out.’

“This [new] education will give my son a fair chance.”

As part of the state’s ruling, the New York City Department of Education is giving yeshivas three years to clean up their act, demanding that the religious schools ensure a curriculum “substantially equivalent” to that of public schools. But some Orthodox officials are resistant.

In a speech on Wednesday in East Williamsburg, Satmar Rebbe Aron Teitelbaum called for defiance of regulations.

“If the commissioner of education wants to fix education in the state of New York, he can go to the public schools and fix the education being offered there,” said Teitelbaum in a speech translated from Yiddish. “The Jewish nation will not bow or give in to the wicked, not even the commissioner of education . . . we will go out to war against the commissioner in every way.”

To read the remainder of the article click here.

NYS Can Compel Compliance from NY Yeshivas but Parents Need to Cooperate Too

The bigger problem with the city’s yeshivas: Inspections aren’t enough to fix what ails many of them

 

The bigger problem with the city's yeshivas: Inspections aren't enough to fix what ails many of them
State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia visits Daily News Editorial Board on Tuesday May 16, 2017. (Susan Watts / New York Daily News)

As the years-long investigation into the city’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish yeshivas drags on, the New York State Education Department just released new guidelines that compel these schools to improve the quality of secular instruction offered to students. The guidelines, issued by Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, include inspections on a five-year basis. If the yeshivas fail, they could have their funding pulled.

I used to teach English, science and social studies in Orthodox yeshivas. Intervention is sorely needed, but I don’t have faith that these measures will succeed.

My schools were better than the ones in question; secular studies were at least offered, three hours a day, four days a week. The students are equally observant to Hasidic Yeshivas with a similarly rigorous Talmud knowledge expected. I tried to bring some of the material I learned in college in the mornings into my classroom in the afternoons, while “sanitizing” my knowledge for the more conservative and austere atmosphere.

It wasn’t always successful because the culture of the place powerfully resisted change.

The improvements recommended by the state need cooperation from parents. Most edification occurs after dismissal. Only 10% of my students, on average, did homework, and that was in large part because their parents weren’t interested in making sure they got it done. In my last marking period, I painfully failed 75% percent of my children.

 

Not a single parent called to complain or fought for their child. And this was in a better school, one that offers English. I cannot imagine how a parent who chose to send their child to a yeshiva that didn’t offer secular studies would stand over her or his son to do homework, after a long day of work as they juggle other children and responsibilities.

 

There is also an issue of time: The community has to choose how to spend the day’s limited hours — whether to help students grow in Torah knowledge or in fields like reading and math.

 

In a scenario where inspectors visit yeshivas, armed with guidelines, I envision administrators paying lip service and agreeing to the terms of people they see as an interference, and then returning to the status quo the second the state examiners leave.

 

The root of the problem here is that many yeshivas have a disregard for outside non-Jewish laws that propel community members to find workarounds.

 

I was hired as a teacher without training, a bachelor’s degree, a background check or a written contract. They let me — a stranger — around children. By law, I was a mandated reporter of child abuse, needing to tell the authorities if I suspected any crimes. On my first day, I was shown the textbook library and told to “figure it out” — a tall order for a neophyte educator who had to prepare students for the Regents and the general outside world.

 

Thankfully, I was always paid on time. But the consistent lack of attention to detail or even a whiff of standards and norms aren’t out of place in that world.

 

Even more than standards, yeshivas need educated educators. My coworkers and I had never earned master’s degrees in education. My employers were also similarly uneducated. They didn’t support the subjects we taught. My principals never offered pedagogical help. They were there for disciplinary issues, in case a student acted up, but never to help a young adult grow in learning.

 

When I repeatedly asked for funding for continuing education workshops, I was rebuffed. I wanted to improve as a teacher, but there were no opportunities.

Inspections are necessary. But they are woefully insufficient.

 

Reiter is a NYC-based teacher and writer.

Non-Compliant Yeshivas and State Funding – Undoing Felder’s Damage, About Time…

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NY POST

Yeshivas could lose state funding for poor education

Yeshivas accused of providing inferior secular education were put on notice Tuesday that they could be shut by the state.

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia released new guidelines that give her the power to strip funding from yeshivas and other private institutions that fail to provide a “substantially equivalent” education to public schools.

Parents will be notified to send their kids elsewhere — or be deemed “truant” — if they continue to attend noncompliant schools, the guidelines say.

“We want to ensure that all students receive the education they are entitled to under state Education Law, no matter which school they attend,” Elia said.

Complaints about shoddy education at some New York City yeshivas have raged for years.

A probe conducted by the city Department of Education culminated in August with a report that 15 Brooklyn yeshivas refused to even allow officials to enter and review their classes.

Elia warned: “Not letting someone in is not acceptable.”

The three-year city investigation by the DOE also found that at other Jewish schools, students were taught only basic math and no science at all.

Under the new state guidelines, the city Department of Education would continue to review the religious schools, which would have up to three years to clean up their act. Elia said the religious schools would have to provide 180 minutes of instruction per subject per week with “competent” teachers.

In grades 5 through 8, for example, yeshivas would have to provide at least one class per semester of instruction in English, math and science as well as courses in career and tech education.

Some of the changes were triggered by a controversial amendment pushed by Brooklyn state Sen. Simcha Felder — a champion of yeshivas — that was included in the last state budget and which critics complained watered down academic requirements at yeshivas. But Elia said the amendment gives her final authority to determine whether many of the religious schools are teaching the basics or not — and in the most extreme cases of noncompliance shut them down.

Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, which represents parents with kids in yeshivas, said it was pleased the guidelines acknowledge that “religious schools are and will remain different from public schools in curricula, mission, emphasis and instructional approaches.”

But the group expressed concern that public school officials would be evaluating religious schools. “Today’s guidelines will encourage further deviation from the truth in pursuit of political goals,” the organization said.

Yeshiva Education, Failing Students, England – Ohr Torah School

The failing school where pupils aren’t taught in English, leave without proper qualifications and aren’t prepared for ‘life in modern Britain’0_School3

Yeshivah Ohr Torah School in Salford has been rated as ‘inadequate’ in all areas by Ofsted

A failing school where pupils are not taught in English, leave with no recognised qualifications and are not prepared for ‘life in modern Britain’ has been slammed by the education watchdog.

Orthodox Jewish Yeshivah Ohr Torah School in Salford has been criticised by Ofsted chiefs in a damning inspection report, in which they said they couldn’t confirm whether pupils are ‘well cared for and safe’.

Parents of children at the all-boys independent school – which serves the Hasidic Jewish community of Broughton Park – were said to have withdrawn consent for inspectors to talk to their sons.

The school, previously graded ‘good’, has been deemed ‘inadequate’ in every inspection category.

Ofsted bosses said that while some youngsters speak English as their first language at home, all lessons at Yeshivah are taught in Yiddish.

Children follow a curriculum based on Jewish religious studies, with ‘infrequent’ opportunities to pursue secular studies,inspectors said.

Yeshivah Ohr Torah School

Other subjects are only taught if relevant to pupils’ religious studies, inspectors said.

“The school’s own measures of pupils’ achievements only have value within their own religious community,” the report read.

Inspectors said students are not encouraged to respect and understand people from other walks of life, including those of different sexual orientation and those who have undergone gender reassignment.

Children do not learn enough about other faiths and cultures, the report added.

The school’s anti-bullying policy was criticised for not including all forms of discrimination, including homophobia.

“Other aspects of pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development are also weak,” inspectors said.

Physical education is non-existent at the school, meaning children do little – if any – exercise at school.

Ofsted chiefs said prospects for pupils are poor because they do not sit any external exams – meaning they finish year 11 with no recognised qualifications, ‘ill-prepared for their next steps’.

Ofsted bosses raised serious concerns about the school

Safeguarding was found to be ineffective and relevant checks were said not to have carried on trustees of the school.

Governors at the school, previously rated ‘good’ in 2014, say Yeshivah still provides a ‘high-quality education’.

They claim the latest rating reflects the government’s new, ‘rigid’ inspection framework.

The Ofsted report read: “Opportunities for pupils to develop their English and mathematical skills are poor. The school does not provide lessons in English.

“Pupils have limited opportunities to practise their speaking, reading and writing skills in English.

“Moreover, little time is given to the teaching of mathematics. This means that pupils are not well prepared for life in modern Britain.”

The school was rated ‘inadequate’ overall and in all four inspection categories – effectiveness of leadership and management; quality of teaching, learning and assessment; personal development, behaviour and welfare; and outcomes for pupils.

Parents told inspectors they were happy with the education provided and ‘strongly supported the school’.

Shaya Leitner, speaking on behalf of governors, said: “We would like to highlight the fact that our school continues to deliver a high quality education, and indeed on previous inspections, we have been rated as a good school.

“The current rating reflects the new inspection framework that is much more rigid which has reduced the flexibility that independent schools have previously enjoyed to structure a broad and balanced curriculum that reflects the ethos of the school community it serves.”

The school has been told it must take action to meet the requirements of the government’s Independent School Standards.

 

The Hens Guarding the Hen House – Yeshivas in New York, Education of Children

Yeshivas could face closure, eventually, if academics fail state reviews

Private schools that don’t comply with state requests to improve academic instruction as part of a new review process could face sanctions that would, in the worst cases, effectively shut a school.

On Tuesday, the SED issued its long-awaited guidelines on determining whether private schools, particularly Hasidic yeshivas, are complying with state law when it comes to teaching secular academics. 

Based on the new standards, schools districts will be required to start conducting substantial equivalency reviews during the 2018-2019 school year of religious and independent schools within their district. The Education Department expects districts to complete initial reviews by Dec. 15, 2021, and to revisit schools on a five-year cycle. 

The review process will be slow moving, in part, because there is no additional funding for school districts that have to review private schools.

If a school falls below the mark, they’ll be given extra time and assistance towards “achieving substantial equivalency,” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said. However, if the school appears to be making no effort to improve, they put themselves at risk of losing services, such as transportation and textbooks, and the limited state and federal aid they receive, Elia said.

“Then parents would be notified they need to transfer students within a reasonable time frame of six weeks to two months,” she said. “If a student remains at the school after that, they’d be considered truant and that’s another whole process that gets triggered.”

Elia said looking into how to enforce the long-ignored requirement was a two-year process prompted by questions from local public school leaders, who are already charged under state law with reviewing private school curriculum. 

“The intent of the reviews are to ensure that all students receive the education they are entitled to,” she said. “The process is also an opportunity to build strong relationships between the public and private schools.”

Public school districts will not be given any extra funding to complete the reviews, but they will be given training and materials for how to go about the process, Elia said.

According to the commissioner, of the roughly 700 public districts in the state, about 300 have private schools within their boundaries. The majority of those have “at most, maybe one or two,” private schools in district, which wouldn’t make reviewing them cumbersome, she said.

But districts with a large number of non-public schools will be allowed up to three years to complete evaluations, she said. East Ramapo is home to about 8,500 public-school students and 27,000 private-school students attending over 140 private schools.

East Ramapo Superintendent Deborah Wortham said in a statement:  “As a superintendent who oversees the education of 35,000 students, both public and private, we will adhere to the timeline and follow the guidance provided today by Commissioner Elia.”  

In recent years, some yeshivas, particularly tradition-bound Hasidic yeshivas, have faced criticism for inadequate schooling on secular subjects. Many high-school boys, in particular, are said to have almost exclusively religious studies.

Natfuli Moster of New City, founder and executive director of Young Advocates for Fair Education or YAFFED, an advocacy group that has pushed the state to enforce existing law on private-school instruction, said in a statement: “Although we are still reviewing NYSED’s guidelines, we have always believed that updated guidelines are an important step toward bringing about useful oversight of secular instruction at ultra-Orthodox yeshivas in New York.”

Meanwhile, yeshiva officials and officials within the Orthodox Jewish community have expressed concern that excessive state involvement with yeshiva instruction would intrude on their religious freedom. Some yeshiva advocates have also said their schools could not make instructional improvements without state aid, but Elia said there would be no state money to help schools comply with the law.

The issue emerged as the final sticking point during budget negotiations in Albany. Simcha Felder, a Democratic state senator from Brooklyn who caucused with the Republican majority, held up the $168 billion budget while seeking to protect yeshivas as the state Education Department reviewed curriculum rules.

OVERSIGHT: Educational equivalency at yeshivas is thorny challenge for SED 

LAWSUIT: YAFFED sues for greater yeshiva oversight

Under a last-minute compromise, state law was tweaked to require the state to consider a yeshiva’s full curriculums. This change also gave the commissioner final say over whether certain private schools, namely yeshivas, are offering substantially equivalent academic instruction.

In response, YAFFED sued the state. The group argued that the amended law is not only unconstitutional but also guarantees that one of the metropolitan area’s fastest growing student populations will continue to receive “a sub-standard secular education.”

According to Moster, the federal lawsuit remains active. 

What’ll be examined

“Substantial equivalency,” the state Education Department says, means that private-school instruction “is comparable in content and educational experience” to public-school instruction, but “may differ in method of delivery and format.”

The state will provide training for school districts, as well as non-public school leaders, on how to perform objective assessments that are, Elia said, done in a respectful, mindful, consistent and objective way. Additionally, schools may reach out to their local BOCES to help conduct the reviews, SED said.

According to a newly-updated state toolkit, areas of private-school curriculum to be examined include:

  • Is there a framework for core academic subjects like English language arts, math, science and social studies. 

  • Are core academic subjects taught in English?

  • Is there a process to evaluate if students are making academic progress from grade to grade?

  • Do schools provide citizenship classes, character education, health education and English instruction on “common branch subjects” to students with limited English proficiency?

To read the article in its entirety click here.

Mark G Peters – Whistleblower – New York Yeshiva Investigation – A Travesty of Justice

MARK G PETERS – WHISTLE-BLOWER – A TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE AND EDUCATIONAL NEGLECT 

The following speaks for itself. We ask you to kindly read and share.

This is a formal statement made by Mark G. Peters. It speaks to the incompetence of the system, the corruption, the lack of  care for the education of the children in the State of New York, as equally entitled to, if not obligated to receive a substantially similar education.

It speaks to educational neglect and it speaks to the obligation of those of us willing to publicize and fight for the rights of all of the State of New York’s children, including those who are receiving an education who should not grow up responsible for those who did not.

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