Substantial Equivalency in New York for Yeshiva Students – Naftuli Moster YAFFED [podcast]

CAPITOL PRESSROOM

June 4, 2019: Non-public school guidelines

The fight for substantial equivalency for non-public schools made its way to the Board of Regents meeting in Albany this week. Naftuli Moster, Executive Director of Young Advocates for Fair Education, discussed what he hopes to see the State do next to ensure substantial equivalency.

Yeshiva Education and Substantial Equivalency – Why not Meet Requirements or Forego Funding?

State education chief unveils retooled ‘substantial equivalency’ rules for private schools

Nancy Cutler, Rockland/Westchester Journal NewsPublished 3:33 p.m. ET May 31, 2019

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia speaks with The Journal News Staff in White Plains March 18, 2019. Carucha L. Meuse, cmeuse@lohud.com

The New York State Education Department announced proposed regulations Friday for academic instruction at nonpublic schools, less than two months after its guidelines with similar goals were blocked by the State Supreme Court.

The issue focuses on enforcing state law requiring that secular studies at private schools — like math science, English and history — be “substantially equivalent” to what’s taught in public schools. Concern has been most focused on certain ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish yeshivas that advocates have reported fail to meet the law or prepare their students for employment and a solid economic future.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia initially issued new guidelines in November that were meant to update previously issued regulations for enforcing the law. But the court ruled in April that the Education Department failed to follow its own procedure for such specific changes.

The Education Department is classifying the effort as a change to regulations, not just guidelines. The path to new regulations includes a public comment period — lacking in the original process.

“Nonpublic schools are an important part of the educational landscape in New York State,” Elia said in a statement. “With the regulations, we will ensure that all students — no matter which school they attend — have the benefit of receiving the education state law says they must have. By following the State Administrative Procedure Act process, we are addressing the Court’s concerns.”

Some advocates had been pushing the state to adopt emergency regulations to enforce the “substantial equivalency” law, rather than launching a lengthier process. Naftuli Moster, the founder and executive director of Young Advocates for Fair Education, or YAFFED, said in a statement that the state was playing into the hands of groups that resist oversight of yeshivas.

“Instead of acting quickly to implement emergency regulations, NYSED has chosen a lengthy process which all but guarantees that in the 2019-2020 school year, tens of thousands of children will continue to be denied the education to which they are entitled by law,” the New City resident said.

Yeshiva education activist Naftuli Moster, who has been the topic of a lot of criticism and praise for his work with YAFFED, a nonprofit that’s pushing the state to ensure secular education is provided in yeshivas, discussed his work outside Rockland County Court House June 12, 2018 in New City. (Photo: Tania Savayan/The Journal News)

Also at issue is the state’s plan to allow inspections by the public school district to take place by the end of the 2022-2023 academic year. “That’s like saying ‘when you get around to it, but no rush,’ ” YAFFED responded.

The education equivalency issue mostly impacts New York City and the East Ramapo school district, which has scores of yeshivas in their boundaries.

Rockland Legislator Aron Wieder, D-Spring Valley, has been a strong critic of such oversight. Wieder, who is Hasidic, represents parts of Spring Valley. He has asserted that Elia “has bought into the narrative that is being peddled by people who have left the Orthodox community and only have hatred towards our community.”

The issue has caused much attention in New York politics. In 2018, the state budget was nearly derailed when Sen. Simcha Felder, D-Brooklyn, demanded language be inserted into the budget that would influence the way the state considered curriculum at certain yeshivas.

The proposed regulations more specifically spell out the ability for a private school to challenge the enforcement process in an effort to include “due process.” The guidelines also allow “for integrated curriculum that delivers content by incorporating more than one subject into the content of a course.”

The proposed regulations drop references to state learning standards; rather, the guidance language will focus on instruction in subject areas required by law.

To continue reading click here.

Yeshivas and No Secular Studies, the Tragedy for Jews and Democracy

The Forward - News that Matters to American Jews

Originally published in The Forward.

Susan Lerner and Esther Fuchs

May 29, 2019

Yeshivas Aren’t Teaching Secular Studies. It’s A Shonda For The Jews And Democracy.

Over generations, no matter their religious practice, Jews have shared a commitment to educating their children. In New York, the government has set the standards for that education and taken the legal responsibility to ensure that every child in every school, whether public, private or religious, receives an education that meets those standards. And yet, we find ourselves in an extraordinary situation, where rabbis in some of our most vulnerable communities have chosen to deny children the secular education they are entitled to and relegate them to a life of poverty and dependency. It is even more disheartening that our elected officials have chosen to be complicit in this disgrace.

For decades, yeshivas have received millions — if not hundreds of millions — of tax dollars from New York State lawmakers for transportation, security, lunch, textbooks, and even academic intervention services. Some yeshivas cover as much as two-thirds of their budget with public funds

Yet, we have little to no accountability for that money, even as certain Ultra-Orthodox leaders openly flout state law which requires all nonpublic schools to provide an education that is “at least substantially equivalent” to public schools. That’s because lawmakers have historically prioritized politically powerful voting blocks ahead of student wellbeing, and they’re doing it on our dime.

The fact is we have no idea if these schools are even in compliance with state educational requirements to teach secular studies, but we have reason to suspect that they’re not. According to a report commissioned by Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED) in 2017, Hasidic boys receive only 90 minute or less of secular instruction a day in elementary school, and none in high school. This leaves them unable to read and write in English, perform basic math, or understand the science behind vaccines.

It’s an ongoing crisis, but despite recent efforts by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to implement very basic oversight, these Ultra-Orthodox leaders are fighting to keep our children in the dark ages. Pilpul and gematria are simply not a substitute for writing a clear English sentence and understanding basic math concepts.

 

To continue reading the article in the Forward click here.

The Professor Adina Schick Affidavit and Yeshiva Education – Misleading Interpretation – Part I

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Misleading and Uninformed – Further Keeping Children Hostage – The Affidavit of Professor Adina Schick and What it Fails to Understand

We are posting the following letter and the Professor Adina Schick affidavit. Professor Shick is worthy or praise in her own right for the work she has done and all that she has accomplished. This is not intended to be a personal attack and should not be viewed as such. We have not researched Professor Schick’s upbringing, her background or anything else about her to see if she was a Yeshiva student, or if she is affiliated with an ultra-Orthodox community. 

As a general matter, her affidavit raises Common Core standards which in our view is problematic to begin with because there are few public schools in the State of New York that are keen on continuing the Common Core standards. Common Core was a faulty premise to begin with and a number of states have already done away with them. 

Her affidavit appears to disregard the fact that if students are given public funding for education they should be required to meet public requirements. It was clearly not an affidavit intended for that purpose. It was intended to ask a limited question: “Can children taught in Yeshiva be meeting the same standards as public school children?” Her response, in our view, is wholly misleading. 

Professor Schick fails to mention that the Talmud is written in Aramaic. Much of the studying in Yiddish (not English) may be a linguistic accomplishment for the children learning to understand these two languages but does nothing for children who need to function in country where English is the language of daily living. The children are not taught to understand science, mathematics, physics or anything about their physical realm except through the Aramaic words in the Talmud and while one might be able to extend some sort of imaginary parallel between the two, the focus within the Yeshiva context does not draw that parallel. 

We receive the following from a concerned reader and thought we should post: 

Dear Lost Messiah:

“This affidavit is extremely problematic and misleading. The fact remains, the Talmud is written in Aramaic. The language of instruction in the 39 chasidic yeshivas affected by the new guidelines is in yiddish. There is simply no way the Next Generation English Language Standards can be met through the study of Talmud in yiddish.”

 

Page 6:

14. In the middle school years, for example, Next Generation English Language Standards such as Literacy and Informational Text Reading Standards (e.g., Key Ideas and Details; Craft and Structure; Integration of Knowledge and Ideas); Speaking and Listening Standards (e.g., Comprehension and Collaboration; Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas); Language Standards (e.g., Vocabulary Acquisition and Use), as well as Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies and Reading Standards for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects can be met. 

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Opinion Piece – Orthodox Yeshivas, Substantially Similar Education and NYS

  • OPINION

Don’t let ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas get away with this: A judge must rule for the state as it seeks to ensure basic educational equivalence in non-public schools

As early as Friday, a judge may decide whether or not the New York State Education Department can proceed to enforce new guidelines for religious and private schools. These guidelines are designed to make sure that private schools are meeting the legal requirement to provide an education that’s “substantially equivalent” to public schools. Sounds reasonable, right? Not to the unholy trinity of yeshivas, Catholic schools and inexplicably some elite private schools, like Brearley and Packer Collegiate, which are suing to prevent any oversight whatsoever.

Until recently, New York State did not enforce its own education standards. And while many private and Catholic schools pride themselves on providing a high quality education that’s even superior to public schools, the consequences have been devastating for students in Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox yeshivas.

In 2015, our group, Young Advocates for Fair Education (Yaffed), filed a complaint with New York City alleging educational neglect in hundreds of Hasidic yeshivas. That neglect has deprived approximately thousands of ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic children of a basic education. In our experience, on average a Hasidic boy receives just 90 minutes of secular instruction in elementary and middle school and no secular instruction at all in high school. The results are damning. The Hasidic neighborhoods in New York State are among the poorest in the state and even the country.

 

The city has been pathetically slow to act, and so the state stepped up to revise its guidelines in an attempt to clarify them for local authorities tasked with determining and enforcing the substantial equivalency standard. On Nov. 20, 2018, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia released the revised guidelines, which triggered vitriolic opposition from Hasidic yeshivas and their supporters.

The guidelines do not differ significantly from previous versions. They require the teaching of the basics, such as English, math, science and social studies.

 

Catholic and other non-public schools would easily pass any substantial equivalency test, but instead they’ve rallied to the defense of the ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas, which make no secret of the fact that they haven’t and won’t provide their students with a full secular education.

 

It’s mind-boggling, because most of the non-Yeshiva schools would barely face any scrutiny at all. Registered high schools go through a more rigorous review by the state in order to be eligible for Regents diplomas, so they would be exempt from an additional substantial equivalency review. Accredited schools, including the majority of private schools, would be subject to only a cursory review, as the district’s substantial equivalency review will take the accreditation determination into consideration. But some Yeshivas, the worst offenders no less, are fighting to remain completely independent from government scrutiny, even as they receive millions in federal, state and local subsidies. Some Hasidic Yeshivas’ budgets are covered two-thirds by government funding, and only one third from tuition.

 

Even a full review can hardly be considered intrusive. Superintendents or their designees must visit all non-public schools once within the next two to three years and once every five years thereafter. As part of that visit, local officials would look at the instruction being done in the schools and would also collect documentation that demonstrates adherence to the guidelines.

To continue reading click here.

Yeshiva vs. State – New York State and Substantially Similar Education

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“Further, the PEARLS Petitioners failed to submit evidence that they have suffered concrete constitutional harm from the issuance of the Updated Guidance. The record contains no evidence that the Updated Guidance’s interpretation and recommendations regarding substantial equivalence conflicts irreconcilably with Yeshiva curriculum; no evidence of what secular message the Yeshivas believe they are being forced to deliver in conflict with their beliefs; no evidence of what part or parts of the Yeshivas’ curricula they would be forced to alter; no evidence of what type of efforts, if any, Yeshivas may have to make to attain substantial equivalency; no evidence of how compliance with the substantial equivalence standard will impair their ability to practice their religion or impede their way of life; and no evidence of any current or impending impact on the operation of their schools. Accordingly, this matter may not be determined as a purely legal question.”

The Court and the Cross/The Court and the Yeshiva

COULD A DECISION BY THE US SUPREME COURT IN THE CURRENT CLIMATE ALLOW FOR TAX DOLLARS TO PAY FOR YESHIVA EDUCATION WHEN THAT EDUCATION DOES NOT REQUIRE SECULAR STUDIES SUCH AS MATH, CIVICS, SCIENCE?

Dear Reader:

The following is taken from a Facebook post and is relevant, particularly in New York State where the issue of “substantially similar” education has become a topic of some gravity. In Canada, the same questions are being raised by former Yeshiva students who feel they were wronged by a government that paid for but did not protect their learning. 

The author of the post has NOT given his permission to repost; but if asked we will remove the following language which prefaces the associated New York Times article. The NYT article is a good read and shows the fine lines we are currently walking on in the United States. Will we remain a country with a Constitution that set specific limits on the separation between church and state or will we move towards a country that, in keeping with trying to protect the free practice of religion, damages the financial freedoms of those who do not support private learning or rather endorse public learning? 

Two years ago, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, the court held that a Missouri church was constitutionally entitled to compete for a state grant to enhance the safety of its preschool playground. In an unusual footnote, the chief justice wrote that the court’s decision involved only “express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing” and that the court was not addressing “religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.” As an effort to limit the scope of the decision, the footnote was an obvious failure: Only three other justices signed onto it, and Justices Thomas and Gorsuch expressly disavowed it, meaning that the footnote did not speak for a majority of the court. Justice Gorsuch, who had been on the court for a little over a month, in fact took the occasion to write a separate concurring opinion in which he suggested that the court might consider overturning a 2004 decision that upheld a restriction on state scholarships for study for the ministry.

In that case, Locke v. Davey, Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote for a 7-to-2 majority. The Establishment Clause would have permitted a state to offer ministry students the same scholarship eligibility as other students if the state wanted such an expansive scholarship program, the chief justice wrote. But if the state chose to limit its scholarships to those pursuing secular careers, he added, the Free Exercise clause did not entitle a ministry student to demand equal treatment. There must be some “play in the joints” between the two religion clauses, he concluded. It was one of Chief Justice Rehnquist’s last important opinions; he died the following year.

This scares me. If Locke v. Daley is overturned then could our tax dollars go to Yeshivas without any requirement for them to provide a secular education.

See the NYT Opinion:

How far is the Supreme Court willing to open the public square to more overtly religious expression? A pending case may tell us.

The appetite of the two newest justices, Mr. Kavanaugh and Mr. Gorsuch, for cases that would enlarge the constitutional playing field for religion appears nearly boundless. Along with Justice Alito, they are looking for vehicles for the court to expand the right of churches to receive direct public grants of money. Justice Kavanaugh, joined by the other two, issued a statement this month explaining why the court was not hearing a case challenging New Jersey’s prohibition against historic preservation grants to churches. The specific facts of the case then before the court were not sufficiently clear for the court to accept the church’s appeal, Justice Kavanaugh said. But he then added, gratuitously, that New Jersey’s position amounted to a “pure discrimination against religion,” a clear invitation to other churches in New Jersey or elsewhere to serve up such a case.

Two years ago, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, the court heldthat a Missouri church was constitutionally entitled to compete for a state grant to enhance the safety of its preschool playground. In an unusual footnote, the chief justice wrote that the court’s decision involved only “express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing” and that the court was not addressing “religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.” As an effort to limit the scope of the decision, the footnote was an obvious failure: Only three other justices signed onto it, and Justices Thomas and Gorsuch expressly disavowed it, meaning that the footnote did not speak for a majority of the court. Justice Gorsuch, who had been on the court for a little over a month, in fact took the occasion to write a separate concurring opinion in which he suggested that the court might consider overturning a 2004 decision that upheld a restriction on state scholarships for study for the ministry.

In that case, Locke v. Davey, Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote for a 7-to-2 majority. The Establishment Clause would have permitted a state to offer ministry students the same scholarship eligibility as other students if the state wanted such an expansive scholarship program, the chief justice wrote. But if the state chose to limit its scholarships to those pursuing secular careers, he added, the Free Exercise clause did not entitle a ministry student to demand equal treatment. There must be some “play in the joints” between the two religion clauses, he concluded. It was one of Chief Justice Rehnquist’s last important opinions; he died the following year.

Although the Locke v. Davey decision is only 15 years old, it seems to come to us from a different world. What’s now in play is not the joints. It is, rather, the heart and soul of a diverse country that is going in one direction while the Supreme Court — as in other areas, including labor law and gun rights — is hurtling in the other, toward a destination fraught with uncertainty and danger.