Their objective is to undermine the success of yeshiva education and bring it down a few notches—that is, until it reaches the failed levels of the New York City public school system.
You can judge the quality of a high-school education by proficiency in trigonometry or perhaps geologic, hydrologic, and atmospheric sciences. On the other hand, the success of our education system can be assessed by the upstanding citizens and gainfully employed young people who are produced by our yeshivas as compared to other schools.
We should not have to make comparisons, but extreme leftist and anti-religion legislators are forcing us to take those positions.
A friend who is not a yeshiva graduate called me after The New York Times story appeared to inquire about some of the topics covered in the story. “How is it that on tests administered by the state to students in some Williamsburg yeshivas, not one student passed?”
That’s a good question and one that certainly does highlight some of the shortcomings in that type of educational process. But that also begs a comparison with the other schools in the state that the Board of Regents would seem to like that yeshiva to emulate.
So, what exactly is there for yeshivas to imitate about New York City’s public schools? The failure rate of students in those schools that’s increasing regularly on an annual basis? The necessity of lowering the Regents exam passing grade to 50 from 65, which has always been considered passing?
The idea that the yeshivas in question are trying to circumvent the traditional education system is what the Times and the leftists in New York State government want you to think. What is true is that secular education in many of these yeshivas can stand to be improved.
At a news conference last week in front of the HALB elementary school on Church Avenue in Woodmere, an array of elected officials and community leaders announced their objection to what the Board of Regents is attempting to do to some yeshivas.
The group, led by newly elected Republican Assemblyman Ari Brown, who is up for re-election on November 8, beseeched the Regents board to back off and respect the cultural and religious nature of these yeshivas.
There were representatives of a few yeshivas that in all likelihood would be completely unaffected, but the sense was that once New York State feels they can be present in some yeshivas, it’s not a far jump to be in all yeshivas.
One of the local rabbis and educators, Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky of Yeshiva of South Shore, in his remarks, asked whether Pennsylvania would create a policy that allows the state into the Amish schools in Lancaster and demands that they revise their educational syllabus to be more like the public schools in the state. The answer is that this is seriously unlikely to occur.
And if that is the case, then even if it seems that state involvement in New York can on some level improve the secular education dispensed by some yeshivas, that so-called improvement can conceivably do more damage than good.
This brings us to the matter of what is referred to as “substantial equivalency”—that subject matter that is taught in many yeshivas, whether it is Gemara or Chumash or Navi, do in fact provide students with a learning experience not dissimilar to or perhaps even on a higher educational level than subject matter taught in public schools.
Critics of these yeshivas claim that those subjects cannot be a substitute for English, math, science, and social studies, which are taught in conventional schools.
Certainly, most of us are well-aware that these studies provide yeshiva students with abilities to think logically in addition to providing comprehensive ancient and bible history.
As pointed out by Richard Altabe, the principal at HALB elementary school, where the news conference was held, over 300,000 people have written to the Board of Regents and New York State officials asking that the yeshivas be allowed to function successfully as they always have. It seems those letters and requests were completely ignored as the board voted unanimously to exact change in these yeshivas in 2024.
Those involved in running our yeshivas in general feel that the system, which has worked well for many decades, is being unfairly targeted by education and political officials who want to bring our yeshivas into line with other schools in the state. But as Mr. Altabe and others pointed out at the news conference, the fashion in which many of the state’s schools are run does not reflect the values and beliefs of our community.
As stated above, the best way to compare the public schools and yeshivas in New York State is by the students and graduates they produce. By and large, the educational focus in yeshivas produces academic achievements on a far higher level than other schools.
If the NYT’s front-page piece that picked apart the yeshiva system in New York had been a fair and constructively critical article that made suggestions about how yeshiva education can be stepped up and improved that would probably be acceptable. But it was a hit piece intended to exacerbate a bias that is part of our culture. The Times likes to point out that while our yeshivas receive millions of dollars in state aid, they are also sidestepping the fundamental expectations of what a conventional New York school offers students.
The fact is that, overall, our yeshivas indeed produce students of a higher caliber, with greater opportunities to achieve and succeed. Our graduates, regardless of the yeshiva they attend, keep their eyes set on success either in a profession or business.
In terms of the culture that is the example set by our yeshivas, we do not have children born out of the conventional family setting which, statistically, indicates a predisposition for dysfunction, failure, and, unfortunately, an unusual level of crime.
It’s a bit difficult to say outright, but you do not see yeshiva students shooting up schools or pushing people off subway platforms. Aside from the subjects that are high or higher priorities in our schools, the results are the important thing—family people gainfully employed and making important contributions to society in general.
Of course, it is vital that all students, regardless of what type of school they attend, know how to read and write. But we also know that for the State Education Department and the Regents Board, their input into the basic yeshiva curriculum is just the start.
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