We were dismayed by some comments we saw in recent correspondence the NYC Department of Education had with several yeshivas. It seems that the DOE has not abandoned its effort to challenge our time-honored educational system.
What particularly caught our attention was the disconnect between the facts the DOE recited in a public letter about the 25 elementary schools it recently visited and the conclusions it drew about those very same yeshivas. Thus, the DOE had some very positive things to say in their public letter about how the schools taught English, math, social studies and science instruction. Indeed, the letters to the schools do not contain a word of criticism about the instruction provided.
Despite this, only two of the yeshivas visited were deemed “substantially equivalent” – the operative DOE standard for non-public schools – to the local public schools. But that was not because of a finding having been made that they do not offer a sound basic education covering English, math, social studies and science. Rather, the DOE claimed that the schools did not meet a legalistic standard that would require yeshivas to teach the “same” curriculum and classes as the public schools.
Solely as the result of that improper approach to what constitutes “substantial equivalence,” the DOE’s public letter contains a “preliminary assessment” that says only two or three of the schools it visited were “substantially” equivalent to the local public schools.
In our view, the DOE’s decision to define what constitutes an appropriate yeshiva education by relying on lawyers rather than educators was plainly wrong. And it has led others to mistakenly conclude that a school is not providing a sound, basic education if it has been characterized as not “substantially equivalent” because it does not precisely mirror what the public schools are required to teach. Despite the fact that the DOE itself confirms that the yeshivas it visited do provide instruction in the core subject matters.
We also note that the DOE almost insultingly paid lip service to the fundamental constitutional rights of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children. It proclaimed in the letters that it is “fully cognizant of the important constitutional backdrop to this inquiry…that the parents of yeshiva students may exercise their religion and may direct the religious upbringing of their children free from governmental interference.” Yet, it promptly ignored them.
Finally, we ask whether anyone really wants our schools with their proud traditions and illustrious products to look to the current public schools for guidance of any kind?