Chassidic Parents Unite to Improve Secular Education in Yeshivas

Students in many New York Chassidic yeshivas are set to receive upgraded secular education this fall. (PHOTO CREDIT: PearlsNY)

In response to complaints about insufficient secular education in many New York City yeshivas, a new coalition of Chassidic community members is promising to ensure improved school instruction for their children. Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, or PEARLS, hired a team of experts to formulate lessons in math and English that they are convinced will meet state standards.

This new effort follows a letter that was sent a year ago by Young Advocates for Fair Education to the city Department of Education charging that 39 yeshivas, primarily in Brooklyn, were hardly meeting state mandates. The former yeshiva students and current parents who signed the letter said these yeshivas generally taught secular subjects for an average of 90 minutes a day, and that boys age 13 and older did not receive secular studies at all.

As noted by the Wall Street Journal, Young Advocates for Fair Education demanded the city implement a state law requiring private schools to provide an education “substantially equivalent” to public schools. New York City officials say they are continuing to probe the complaints.

Avi Schick, an attorney who represents the 39 yeshivas and advises the PEARLS coalition, said that the coalition’s goal is to protect parents’ choice to send children to religious schools while working to implement improved instruction.

In January, PEARLS hired Richard Altabe, who served as headmaster of a yeshiva where students take state Regents exams and Advanced Placement courses, to create appropriate lesson plans and teaching guides. Altabe asserted that the new curriculum will meet the Common Core standards, which identifies specific skills that children should attain in each grade.

Altabe stated that he was working with two major publishers to produce new lessons that would be ready for fall, and some teachers would receive training this summer.

PEARLS’ representatives said that the schools set to put in place the new system of secular studies represented such Chassidic groups as Satmar, Lubavitch, Skver, Bobov and Belz.

According to Schick, representatives of the yeshivas being looked into met with City Hall and education officials this spring, and the majority of them plan to adopt the new curriculum.

“We have been in productive conversations with the schools for months while our investigations have continued and we are encouraged by the progress we’ve seen,” a City Hall spokesman stated. “We are developing a mutual understanding on how to implement a high-quality, Common Core-aligned curriculum as soon as possible.”

Boruch Shubert

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