Offering a first glimpse into the three-year-long investigation into yeshivos, the New York City department of education late Wednesday praised the progress made by yeshivos in instilling a sound secular education in its students while outlining in a letter to the state a request for guidance on how to continue its review.
Richard Carranza, the city’s education chancellor, detailed in the letter to his state counterpart, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, the meetings and discussions held with yeshivah administrators and advocates since a complaint against 39 Brooklyn yeshivos was submitted in July of 2015.
All yeshivos, aside for seven, have been accounted for, Carranza wrote.
“The DOE wishes to emphasize its belief,” he stated, “that, through the collaborative efforts of all interested parties, gains have already been made. Moreover, in visiting 15 schools, the DOE observed examples of good practices … that can be shared throughout the yeshivah community, respecting the culture and tradition of the community.”
The letter confirms what yeshivos have been saying, that their overall education was on a standard sufficient to turn out graduates who can be successful in life, said a statement by Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, a yeshivah advocacy group known as PEARLS.
“For the past three years,” said a statement by PEARLS, which held a press conference Thursday morning near City Hall to amplify its statement, “New York’s Orthodox Jewish communities have been forced to endure a relentless campaign of slander against their schools and way of life.”
“Today,” it added, “the city’s department of education transmitted its findings to the state education department. The letter confirms that Yaffed’s allegations against the yeshivos have no basis in fact. To the contrary, the city’s letter cites one example after another of our yeshivah children receiving a rich education.”
The letter also revealed that many of the statistics issued by Yaffed were false. There were only 30 yeshivos under investigation, not 39. And the group had firsthand information on just 11 of them.
The 15 schools visited have a combined enrollment of more than 13,000, while the remaining schools have 3,000 students, PEARLS noted. That means that schools that educate about 80 percent of the students in the complaint have been visited and found to have made progress.
“It is not the city that is mostly at fault here,” the group said. “Yaffed’s tiny group of media-savvy activists ginned up the debate by disseminating information that few bothered to fact-check. They released a report on secular education at the yeshivos that many cited as a credible source — even though its findings were based on a survey of the Yaffed founder’s [social media] friends.”
Of the 39 names submitted by Yaffed, nine were either outside the scope of mandatory education or sloppily included. Three were beis medrash level, four have since closed, one was a butcher shop and another a nutrition center.
Of the remaining 30, city officials have visited fifteen and are in the process of scheduling visits at eight more.
Carranza said that he is requesting guidance from the state on how to proceed regarding the remaining seven yeshivos.
“We appreciate the schools that did allow visits and the clear spirit of collaboration and interest in continuous improvement this shows,” Carranza wrote in his letter, which was dated Wednesday. “We request further guidance from [the State Education Department] to allow us to continue to work collaboratively and productively with these schools to develop plans for further collaboration and improvement, where warranted.”
The letter made clear that the city was satisfied with both the level of cooperation and the progress in education.
“The schools have clearly made progress by creating culturally appropriate secular curricula and enlisting the supports necessary to implement them, including hiring qualified external trainers, as described above,” Carranza writes at one point. He adds later that following a presentation, “a strong argument has been made that Judaic Studies can be a powerful context in which to cultivate critical thinking and textual analysis skills.”
He said that yeshivos began working with top publishers, Sadlier Oxford for math and Houghton Mifflin for language arts, to develop textbooks that would be culturally appropriate. Visits confirmed that many of them are using the curriculum. Seminars on how to implement the program were held in Boro Park, Williamsburg and Crown Heights and were attended by hundreds of teachers and principals.
The letter culminated a years-long campaign by Yaffed to radically change the way yeshivos operate, according to PEARLS.
PEARLS charged that “Yaffed’s caricature of a backward culture deliberately keeping its children ignorant played into awful stereotypes about the Orthodox communities. Years of hard work by civic leaders to combat such prejudices were undermined.”
The group called on the state to end the investigation and allow parents to choose for themselves how to educate their children.
“The state must now recognize this matter for what it is: An attempt to usurp parents’ rights to select the best education for their children — particularly if the schools in question are located in orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. It is time to end this assault on our community once and for all.”