Affirmative Letter About Yeshivos by Chancellor Carranza of NYC DOE

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New York City Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza in April, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew/File)

In a letter to Shannon Tahoe, interim New York state commissioner of education, Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education Richard A. Carranza reported that yeshivos that were visited by his department showed that they are providing substantially equivalent instruction or are “well-developed in moving towards providing’’ substantially equivalent instruction.

“We firmly believe that the most productive path to meaningful, sustained improvement is through collaboration,” wrote Chancellor Carranza. “We have sought to balance the rights of parents and private organizations while upholding the legal requirement that nonpublic schools provide instruction substantially equivalent to that provided in the public schools.”

“The DOE and the schools in question have accomplished a great deal thus far,” Chancellor Carranza wrote.

The visits to the schools were part of an investigation by the NYS DOE following a Complaint Letter submitted to it in 2015. The complaint was signed by 52 people describing themselves as “parents of current students, former students and former teachers” (“Complainants”) of one or more of the 39 yeshivos listed in the letter.

In his letter, the chancellor wrote that of the 39 locations listed in that complaint, the DOE visited a total of 40 sites (since two separate addresses were given for one of the institutions) and ultimately determined that 12 sites were not under their jurisdiction. These included four sites that were no longer functioning, three which served post high-school students, one Pre-K program, a nutrition center and a butcher shop. (One high school was registered with the State Education Department, and one site was Central Lubavitcher Headquarters.)

The yeshivah system in New York City consists of some 275 institutions, 28 of which (25 elementary/middle schools and 3 high schools) were visited by the Board of Education in recent months within the scope of the inquiry. In total, the DOE team made 138 classroom visits related to grades one through twelve.

Eleven of these schools were deemed to be providing substantially equivalent instruction or well-developed in moving towards providing substantially equivalent instruction. Of these, eight were reported to currently exhibit a range of proficiency in meeting the substantial equivalency requirements of the state Education Law, two are considered substantially equivalent, and one is on the verge of becoming substantially equivalent.

In addition, 12 of the schools are developing in their provision of substantially equivalent instruction. Only five of the schools were described as “underdeveloped” in demonstrating or providing evidence of substantially equivalent instruction.

The chancellor’s letter further mentions that leaders from the yeshiva community, namely the nonprofit organization Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools (“PEARLS”), informed the DOE that they were collaborating on new curricula in English Language Arts (“ELA”) for fourth through sixth grades, and in mathematics for first through third grades.

In response to the chancellor’s letter, PEARLS said, “The yeshivah system continues to outperform the City’s public schools by every metric, including higher graduation rates, better test scores, greater attendance and more positive outcomes. The New York City yeshivah system is comprised of 275 independent schools. As with all school systems, yeshivas always strive to improve and adopt best practices. They will continue to do so.”

Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein released a statement in which he declared that the DOE report validates yeshivah education.

“The New York City Department of Education’s report completely and rightly confirms what we have been saying since day one,” said Mr. Eichenstein. “This entire issue is a fabricated claim by a group of so-called advocates making baseless accusations against the entire yeshivah system. In fact, yeshivah education by far exceeds its public-school counterparts, not only in terms of the education they provide but they also achieving far greater graduation rates and higher test scores.

“Now that we know that out of 275 yeshivas in New York City, a handful need additional resources, let’s see if these so-called advocates will join me in advocating for additional government resources to help the 1% improve, and if you’re not willing to join me in this fight, it is time for us to call it what it is: a hateful smear mongering campaign,” said the Assemblyman.

Chancellor Carranza ended his letter applauding the proactive steps many schools have taken that resulted in the significant progress and reiterating his department’s commitment to working collaboratively with the yeshivos to assist them in providing improved instruction.