Photo Credit: Adam Jones via Wikimedia
Hasidic family in Borough Park

Richard A. Carranza, New York City schools chancellor, on Thursday revealed in a letter to the state’s Education Department that his staff had not been allowed into half the yeshivas under investigation for the quality of their “secular” education, local media reported.

In 2015, 52 parents, former students and former teachers from 39 yeshivas in the city complained that these institutions did not provide adequate teaching in Math, Science, and English to their students who were older than 13, who engaged only in religious studies. The complainers said this resulted in graduates being unable to pursue adequate employment and being generally unprepared for a rewarding life.

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The city’s Education Department launched an investigation of 30 yeshivas. Now it turns out that for the past three years, 15 of those yeshivas refused to allow DOE officials into their facilities.

“The D.O.E. has made repeated attempts to gain access to the schools,” Carranza informed state officials, suggesting “the long delay in scheduling visits to this group of 15 schools is a serious concern.”

Naftuli Moster, who founded Young Advocates for Fair Education which is committed to enhancing secular education in yeshivas, issued a statement saying: “It is disappointing, but not surprising, that nearly half of the schools to be investigated refused entry to the Department of Education. Reading between the lines, it’s hard not to conclude there is both a lack of secular instruction going on in these schools and that these schools believe they are above the law.”

Commissioner Carranza noted in his letter that New York State Law requires nonpublic schools to provide instruction “substantially equivalent to that provided in public schools,” and be at least substantially equivalent to the instruction given to minors of like age and attainments at the public schools of the city or district where their students resides.

In April 2018, the law was amended, and in addition to including skill-based factors (such as writing, arithmetic, text-analysis and critical thinking skills) to be considered in determining equivalency of instruction for nonpublic schools, it is the Commissioner who shall determine whether these schools are providing an education that is substantially equivalent to the instruction given to minors of like age and attainments at the public schools of the city or district where the minor attending a nonpublic school resides.

Carranza complained that City Education officials “made announced visits to the schools, but, they said, 15 yeshivas did not allow them inside.” The 15 yeshivas that cooperated appeared serious about their commitment to including secular studies in their curricula.

According to Carranza, between March and December 2017, the DOE visited the following schools: Yeshiva Bnei Zion, District 20 (48th Street); Yeshiva Talmud Torah Toldos Hillel; Yeshiva Chasan Sofer; Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov, District 14; Yeshiva Machzikei Hadas; Yeshiva Karlin Stolin; Yeshiva Bnos Malka; Bais Ruchel D’Satmar, Elementary; Yeshiva Torah V’Yirah; United Lubavitcher Yeshivoth; Yeshiva Bais Hillel; Yeshiva Boyan; Yeshiva Yesode Hatorah; Yeshiva Ahavas Israel; Yeshiva Mosdos Chasidei Skver, District 20.

“At each yeshiva, school leaders expressed a commitment to expanding students’ exposure to secular instruction and to improving the instruction itself,” the commissioner reported enthusiastically. “Some of the schools gave examples of successful adults who had attended their schools. Some of the schools spoke specifically about the importance of a secular education. Five schools had adopted the PEARLS ELA curriculum and six schools had adopted the PEARLS math curriculum. Some schools stated that their lessons were guided by a curriculum map and a scope and sequence that incorporated formative assessments to guide student progress and keep families informed. Two schools showed student assessments.”

Of the remaining 15 schools, according to Carranza, “nine appear to be elementary schools and six appear to be high schools. Since August 3, 2016, the DOE has made repeated attempts to gain access to the schools. While at one point it received a commitment that access would be provided for the nine remaining elementary schools, it never received such a commitment for the six high schools, and, in any event, the simple fact is that the DOE has not been provided access to any of them. The long delay in scheduling visits to this group of 15 schools is a serious concern.”

The commissioner concluded his letter with a note that “today, the yeshiva representative of 8 of these schools notified us that they were willing to schedule visits. We requested that they submit a time and date for those visits by the close of business today. With respect to all 15 schools that have not been visited, DOE requests guidance from SED on how to proceed.”

Specifically, the commissioner requested the state’s guidance on how to engage with the schools that have not yet granted access for DOE educators to visit, and/or what time period constitutes an acceptable time period to wait for such access to be granted; how to engage in a collaborative planning process with schools that have demonstrated interest in and willingness to share and build on current practices, in cases where further efforts are recommended; and how to engage with schools where statutory responsibility has shifted from DOE to SED, as well as SED’s determination of which schools are in this category.

A list of the 15 yeshivas which have not allowed a review of their secular curricula was reported by the commissioner. We opted not to publish it.

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