Over the last few months, yeshivos have come under fire in New York City with allegations that these Orthodox Jewish private schools fail to provide sufficient secular education. Some have called for increased regulation of these institutions. The criticism overlooks the valuable role yeshivos play in our communities. It is too easy to allow a generalization or misperception to define an entire community, and those falsehoods malign an entire people.
The fact is, yeshivah students spend many more hours in the classroom than traditional students, and much of that time is spent on a curriculum focused on critical thinking and analytical skills, skills that are not emphasized in traditional public schools. The longer school day starts when these students are in elementary school, and that training provides a foundation to help them excel as adults in a wide variety of professions. In addition to the critical and analytical thinking, yeshivos also emphasize ethical and moral development, and that is central to their cultural teachings. Taken as a whole, yeshivos instill grit and determination, as well as core values in students, rarely seen in any other type of education system.
Critics are quick to point out that even though yeshivos are private schools, they receive government funding. What you may not know is that yeshivos are actually saving New York taxpayers money! The Orthodox families who send their children to yeshivos are largely self-funding the education system, to the tune of $2 billion a year. And while yeshivos do receive some public funding, most of that money is spent on legally mandated services required by the federal government, from student transportation to school lunch. Despite these mandated services, some are still calling for state regulators to intervene and provide more oversight.
Some claim that yeshivos should be forced to “show their work” and detail how they provide minimum standards of secular education to their students. If there is a need to involve the state, then do so, but also provide those places of learning the same opportunities as the entire state’s population of students. For instance, when substantial equivalence is questioned, the State Department of Education and Board of Regents should work with yeshivos to provide the necessary resources for supplemental instruction. This is especially important for yeshivos where English may be a second language to Yiddish. Similar support is given in public schools, where a large segment of the student population may also be English language learners; the only difference is the language being spoken, so aren’t all students entitled to those resources?
The goal of all schools – traditional public, charter, Catholic, Hellenic, yeshivah, and alternatives – is to provide students with a high-quality education. It is in the best interest for all that future generations be as educated as possible. We must always be vigilant to work collaboratively to ensure students – regardless of their background or religion – receive a pedagogically sound education. It is critical to acknowledge that yeshivos play an invaluable role in their communities, regardless of an outsider’s perspective.
It goes without saying that generalizations and attacks in the press against one group of people and their schools places a target on that community by the politics of contempt. We have already seen the hatred in some peoples’ hearts and how that is weaponized against the innocent. At this moment, it is critical to foster a discourse of inclusion, understanding, and empathy; anything less is a cunning disguise inviting public hostility.
It’s important for the public and my colleagues in government to recognize the valuable role yeshivos play in their communities. We must collaborate to ensure all students receive a high-quality education. If there are educational needs and gaps in education – whether around language or anything else – then government must do its part to ensure that those places of learning have the resources necessary for students to be successful.
Assemblymember David Weprin represents the 24th Assembly District in Queens, which includes parts or the entirety of Jamaica Estates, Jamaica Hills, Hillcrest, Holliswood, Hollis Hills, Richmond Hill, and Briarwood. Assemblymember Weprin is Co-President of the National Association of Jewish Legislators and is a leading voice in New York for Jewish issues.
By Assemblymember David Weprin – 24th Assembly District, Queens