Yeshiva debate boils over ahead of vote on state regulations and New York Times investigation

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(New York Jewish Week) — Nearly four years after they were proposed, final revisions to the New York State Department of Education’s regulations for secular education in yeshivas and other nonpublic schools are set to be submitted to the vote of the Council of State Regents. the week.

The “substantial equivalency” regulations provide several options for private schools in New York to prove that their secular education is on par with instruction in public schools.

Debate over the teaching of math, English and other secular subjects in yeshivas has rocked the Jewish community, which this week braced for a upcoming New York Times investigation that should reveal shortcomings in yeshiva programs.

Defenders of yeshivas have already denounced the article, before its publication, as an attack on the Orthodox Jewish community, while advocates of improving secular education in Jewish schools say that its conclusions, like the guidelines of the state, are long overdue.

The intensity of the yeshiva debate was reflected in the 350,000 public comments received in a two-month period after the proposed guidelines were released in March.

Briefing reporters on Friday morning in New York, Department of Education officials said many of the comments were supportive of the proposed settlement and appreciated the implementation of the “multi-track” approach, which provides six options. to schools to prove substantial equivalence. These include examinations by local public school authorities, NYSED-approved assessments in core secular subjects, or accreditation by an accredited accrediting body.

However, according to the Ministry of Education, the “mA majority of comments expressed philosophical opposition to state regulation of non-public schools.

Such sentiment was widely expressed across much of the Orthodox Jewish community. In March, Agudath Israel of America, which represents Haredi Orthodox interests, issued a statement saying the guidelines failed to consider “the educational value of religious study”.

In accordance with regulations, the Ministry of Education expects schools to choose their path to determine equivalency by the start of the 2023-2024 school year, with exams for non-public schools completed by local school authorities by spring 2025.

Friday’s briefing, however, focused strictly on clarifying the criteria and process for determining whether substantially equivalent education is provided in non-public schools. These details, according to the Ministry of Education, are “insubstantial”.

One such clarification has ensured that schools that choose the placement test route, for example, are not subject to scrutiny by a local school authority. Another determined that a commissioner can extend the time for non-public schools to demonstrate that they are substantially equivalent if they show good faith progress toward achieving that equivalence.

If implemented, these guidelines will affect teaching in New York yeshivas, where much of the day’s teaching is devoted to the study of Jewish texts and religion. Young Advocates for Fair Education, or YAFFED — a nonprofit organization that campaigns for improved secular education in Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox yeshivas — published a study in 2021 revealing that less than a fifth of students in the city’s 127 yeshivas tested their math and English skills. The study was based on data collected by the state Department of Education.

In its briefing, the Department for Education raised possible misconceptions and noted that the regulations were not intended to isolate any particular group or regulate religious instruction.

Still, Naftuli Moster, the founder and executive director of YAFFED, told Jewish Week in New York that the organization “wants to see these regulations passed because we see them as a step in the right direction. state, local school districts and YAFFED to hold these non-compliant schools accountable.

“We also believe that in its current form there are significant gaps that need to be filled,” he added.

The votes on those regulations on Monday and Tuesday come seven years after an original petition was filed by YAFFED to investigate the schools. It also comes amid growing controversy over the unpublished Times article on the state of yeshiva education.

Hasidic community sources have learned that the investigation will show that “students in these schools are deprived of education unlike other students in New York.

The two journalists working on the project – longtime education journalist Eliza Shapiro and Pulitzer Prize winner Brian Rosenthal – spent nearly two years interviewing more than 275 people; reviewing documents from some of the schools and putting together a picture of public funding flowing to yeshivas, according to an email they sent to sources this week seeking last-minute comment.

Hasidic State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein from Borough Park, Brooklyn, posted a column in the New York Sun Wednesday attacking the investigation and refuting its findings. “The summary makes it clear that the next Times article will defame an entire community based on sometimes anonymous criticism, hand-picked data, and outright lies,” he wrote.

What the Times is trying to do is paint a brush on the whole Hasidic community,” Eichenstein told New York Jewish Week. “They don’t even understand our culture. They don’t even understand the number of different sects and communities within Orthodox Jewry.

“People in our community see through all of this,” he added. “It’s just basic lies and inaccuracies, not even understanding the school system, not understanding that some of them are separate schools. I truly believe this is a hate-motivated hit play.

In recent days, opinion pieces have appeared in mainstream media challenging the New York Times’ upcoming investigation. Some of them said they reviewed a summary of the investigation’s findings shared with sources by the two journalists who worked on it.

Writing in the New York Post, Jewish philanthropist Michael Steinhardt argued for stronger secular education in yeshivas, saying criticism of reform supporters as anti-Semitic is “beyond outrageous”. Steinhardt, best known for his support of Birthright Israel and Hebrew language charter schools before his reputation has been tarnished by allegations of sexual harassmentwrote: “It troubles me deeply that so many Hasidic leaders have chosen a path that rejects the Jewish tradition of educational excellence and instead leads to poverty, dependency and an inability to contribute meaningfully. significant in the world.

In Tablet Magazine, editor Liel Liebovitz lambasted the New York Times, adding that by some measure, yeshiva graduates are better off than public school graduates, whom he portrays as almost uniformly terrible. “What we need is a committee of Hasidic rabbis to investigate New York’s failing public school system and propose ways to imbue it with the moral and ethical education it currently lacks and needs. is so clearly and desperately needed,” he concluded.

In the email the Times reporters sent to their sources, which the Jewish Telegraphic Agency obtained, Shapiro and Rosenthal explain that their story will conclude that haredi schools have lower scores on state exams in math and in English than all other schools in the state, including those that, like many yeshivas, also serve students from low-income families who do not speak English at home.

They also say they have concluded that corporal punishment is prevalent in schools, which Eichenstein denied. “It’s just not true that corporal punishment is the norm,” he told New York Jewish Week. “This is highly unacceptable. If a teacher raises their hand on a child, slaps a child, they will be fired.

YAFFED’s Moster declined to comment on the content of the survey before it was released. However, the Times’ findings appear to largely mirror what it said when it began pushing for changes to schools where, it said, secular education ceased after the 13 years old.

Eichenstein made it clear that yeshiva advocates are already planning to push back the play. “I encourage people to complain. We have already spoken to lawyers. The New York Times will be held legally responsible,” he told New York Jewish Week.

Philissa Cramer and Jacob Henry contributed reporting for this story.


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