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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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.

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.

 

Opinion: NYC Investigation of Yeshivas a Farce – New York’s Children the Losers

education_sign_resizedNYC’s so-called investigation of yeshivas is a farce

 

For a brief moment last summer, new Chancellor Richard Carranza seemed set to break the logjams and turn the city’s three-year farce of an investigation into Jewish religious schools into something serious.

Guess again: Carranza has just disclosed that none of the Orthodox yeshiva high schools — always the real crux of the alleged problem — will allow city investigators in.

For years, activists have charged that some Orthodox schools fail to provide the basic secular education that state law requires. Even those elementary schools that offer a bare minimum of instruction reportedly end it after age 13.

In 2015, the de Blasio administration announced an active investigation. But years passed with no sign that any such probe was actually under way.

Now NY1 reports that Carranza has notified State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia that 21 of the 30 targeted schools have been inspected (surprise: all “passed”), and three others have scheduled visits.

As activists note, the fact that the visits are scheduled instead of unannounced strongly suggests any investigating is being driven by the schools, not the city.

More important, six high schools won’t even let officials in the door, so Carranza is asking Elia for help. Elia, in turn, says long-promised new guidelines for such inspections are coming … real soon now.

Again, more than three years have passed — during which the politically potent Orthodox community, while fighting the non-probe tooth and nail, got the Legislature to water down the education requirements.

City Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters is looking into whether political interference explains the city’s foot-dragging.

This is not religious persecution; it’s about ensuring that kids learn the basic knowledge and skills to function outside their community. Plainly, Team de Blasio doesn’t see that as any kind of priority.

Yeshivas and Secular Education -Preventing an Economic Divide that’s Ever Growing

Note: We have reposted this without the permission of the author, Emily Newman. Should she ask that we remove it, we will do so. The link to the original article is here:
https://thehumanist.com/features/articles/yes-yeshivas-must-include-secular-education?fbclid=IwAR0ckuuKAa8B0v8u-xSDjFclfKaMRMJggE4tVSCnk1JxuJd1VayzMhBHOkA

Yes, Yeshivas Must Include Secular Education

I’ve spoken often about a Tale of Two Cities [sic]. That inequality—that feeling of a few doing very well, while so many slip further behind—that is the defining challenge of our time. Because inequality in New York is not something that only threatens those who are struggling. The stakes are so high for every New Yorker. And making sure no son or daughter of New York falls behind defines the very promise of our city.

This excerpt from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s victory speech on November 6, 2013, describes the city’s economic divide but could easily apply to its educational divide. While New York City boasts some of the best public schools in the nation, it also contains some of the worst schools. More specifically, the city must take responsibility for failing to acknowledge how poorly its yeshivas have been educating students for decades.

Yeshivas are Orthodox Jewish schools ranging from elementary to college that separate classes by gender and teach several subjects in Hebrew. They primarily focus on the study of traditional religious texts—such as the Talmud and the Torah—but this religious focus doesn’t mean they’re allowed to skip secular education, especially given that these educational institutions are heavily funded by the government. The New York State Department of Education requires the instruction provided at nonpublic schools to be substantially equivalent to that of the local public school. This includes classes in “arithmetic, reading, spelling, writing, the English language, geography, United States history, civics, hygiene, physical training, the history of New York state, and science.”

Upon realizing the gaps in his and his peer’s yeshiva education, a former student named Naftuli Moster founded Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED) in 2012. Since then, YAFFED has collected stories from other former students, teachers, and parents describing the quality and content of the education. In an interview with me in August 2018, Moster explained that initial attempts to inform city officials of the issue in 2013 and 2014 were ignored because they were too general and didn’t name institutions. In a July 2015 letter to the chancellor of the New York City Department of Education YAFFED identified thirty-nine schools with poor records. After reviewing the letter, the chancellor notified the New York State commissioner of education that at these yeshivas:

English and mathematics are taught from around age seven to age thirteen, for an average combined time of only ninety minutes and on only four days a week. Other secular subjects are not taught at all, let alone in English. At these yeshivas, English instruction for boys stops at age thirteen. Girls generally receive a better secular education than boys but, we are still concerned that it is not sufficient to prepare them for their futures.

From 2015-2017 the New York City DOE met with superintendents of the listed schools, interviewed the complainants, and interviewed yeshiva leaders. The department consistently missed self-imposed deadlines to release reports on the investigations. YAFFED gathered testimonials and released its own report in 2017. The report found that the average yeshiva graduate

speaks little or no English, has few or no marketable skills, earns a household income well below the average Brooklynite’s, marries young and has many children, and is forced to rely upon public assistance to support his large family.

The two main reasons yeshivas receive millions of dollars in government funding is to address household poverty levels and low class performance, creating a dangerous cycle for Hasidic Jewish families.

The yeshiva issue grew to a statewide concern on April 12, 2018, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo accepted a budget that included a last-minute amendment to the nonpublic school curriculum law. The Felder Amendment—proposed by New York State Senator Simcha Felder and ultra-Orthodox Jewish community leaders—provides special treatment to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas and cuts down on instructional requirements. This violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution by allowing government to favor one religion over another. YAFFED filed a lawsuit in July 2018 against state officials alleging a lack of oversight of yeshivas and arguing the amendment needs to be removed from law.

In an August 2018 letter, New York City Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza informed New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia that all of the interviewed complainants reported that English was delayed until first grade (sometimes even later), that there was no instruction through a science curriculum (only a few experiments at some schools), that math was restricted to basic arithmetic (sometimes fractions), and that little to no history was taught. Of the thirty-nine listed schools in YAFFED’s letter, nine were removed from the investigation because they weren’t in the NYC DOE jurisdiction—outside of the city or not K-12—or supposedly no longer existed. Carranza has reported optimistically on the fifteen yeshivas that let officials in and agreed to improve, but he admits that it’s too early to tell if the changes are significant enough as the school has only provided outlines and samples of secular curriculum. He has asked for guidance on how to handle the remaining fifteen schools that haven’t allowed DOE officials inside.

One school removed from the list was United Talmudical Academy, which is located on a top floor of a building with a butcher shop on its ground level. City investigators must not have noticed the school’s mailbox or asked around to determine if classes are in fact held at the address associated with the school. Moster noted in our interview that the DOE didn’t consult with YAFFED before deciding to remove schools from the investigation list. Nor have investigators followed up on vetting how United Talmudical Academy received nearly $10 million in federal funding if it doesn’t exist.

“The idea that they will conduct one [scheduled] visit and somehow glean a lot from that is somewhat laughable,” said Moster, who is concerned the investigations have been more yeshiva-led than city-led. He noted that Carranza’s letter doesn’t include names of investigators, visiting officials, education experts, psychology professors, or anyone else in curriculum meetings. The report also doesn’t mention YAFFED as the organization that brought forward the complainants, it but does name Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools (PEARLS)—formed in 2016—as one organization working on new English and math curriculum for yeshivas that “align with the Common Core Learning Standards and use materials that are culturally sensitive to the values of the yeshivas.”

Tension has been rising in New York City as the New York Times published two opposing op-eds: one from its own editorial board blasting politicians for failing to challenge Orthodox leadership and one from PEARLS lawyer Avi Schick criticizing anyone who questions the yeshivas’ progress. Hopefully the curriculum developed by PEARLS will be substantially equivalent to that taught in well-performing public schools. Ideally, New York’s newfound awareness will ensure a fair education for yeshiva students.

Unlike most of the Establishment Clause issues the American Humanist Association takes on, this isn’t about keeping public schools religiously neutral. It’s about ensuring that all schools provide the essentials to help young people succeed in life. No matter where children live or what religion they follow, they deserve a well-rounded education. Make sure your legislators know that they’re responsible here, because an uneducated populace is everyone’s problem.

 

 

The Government Complicity in the Destruction of Education in NYS

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THE MEETING BETWEEN ANDREW CUOMO AND THE SECOND MOST SENIOR EDUCATIONAL POLICY ADVISOR, RABBI ZALMAN LEIB TEITELBAUM IN WILLIAMSBURGE, BROOKLYN

From the Voice of YAFFED:

Naftuli Nick Moster For context, in order to get the New York State budget passed after Simcha Felder decided to hijack it unless he receives an exemption for Yeshivas to not have to meet state standards, Governor Cuomo arranged a phone call with the Satmar Rabbi of Kiryas Joel (the brother of this one). He needed a Yiddish translator because the Rebbe barely speaks English.

And that’s why we now have a special carve-out (of lower standards) for ultra-Orthodox schools.

http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2018/07/departure-lounge-2/

 

 

 

New York: State Education Department Makes $12 Million Error, Overpaying Charter Schools — Diane Ravitch’s blog

New York made an accounting error that cost public schools $12 Million, while overpaying charter schools by that amount. “The $12 million misallocation is about 7.8 percent of the $153 million the state distributed to its Local Educational Agencies in 2017-18 for Title IIA, which supports professional development initiatives such as teacher training, recruitment and […]

via New York: State Education Department Makes $12 Million Error, Overpaying Charter Schools — Diane Ravitch’s blog

 

Note to our readers: We made the decision to share this blog because notably, at least two of the Charter Schools that were overpaid were schools for ultra-Orthodox students, while one of the underfunded schools was the East Ramapo Central School District, a system that has arguably been ravaged by the ultra-Orthodox community of Rockland County, New York.

LM: 8.9.18

Ramapo Nears Breaking Point: Special Report – The Journal News

https://www.lohud.com/story/news/local/rockland/ramapo/2017/01/08/ramapo-ny-breaking-point/95369994/

Inside the East Ramapo Central School District Case: https://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/232394/inside-the-east-ramapo-central-school-district-case

Opinion | When a School Board Victimizes Kids – The New York Times

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/03/…/when-a-school-board-victimizes-kids.html