A Three Point Memo Regarding Hasidic Yeshiva Education

A three-point memo regarding Hasidic Yeshiva education and the changes to education regulations adopted by the New York State Department of Education.

Legal: According to a New York law from the 1800s, private school students must receive an education that is at least "substantially equivalent" to those at public schools. This is an abstract term with limited meaning, yet opponents of Yeshivas claim that Yeshivas are non-compliant. When asked for specifics, opponents pushed for new regulations that would render many Yeshivas afoul of the old law. This is akin to saying, "Vehicles doing 50 MPH violate existing law," but when asked which law, the answer is, "the new speed limit of 30 MPH that is being implemented now." This is an absurd development of events. Besides, failures in NY public schools – high truancy; 55% of students and 90% of English Language Learners in 2019 failing standardized tests – have led to a lowering of standards by regulators, not a tightening of rules as done against Yeshivas.

Curriculum: Hasidic boys are in school more hours per day and more days per year than public-school students. Yeshiva detractors use the terms "religious studies" and "Judaic studies" to suggest that the curriculum is only stories and prayers when said studies include history, geography, geometric concepts, legal theory, and business ethics presented in a way that sharpens critical thinking. The standard Yeshiva also provides English instruction and other “secular” subjects. True, "religious" and "Judaic" studies are structured differently than public school studies, but the law requires substantial equivalency, not substantial sameness. Taken together, Yeshiva students receive more than a sound, basic education.

Outcomes: Hasidic-populated neighborhoods shine with peace and tranquility, strong family and communal foundations, charitable institutions, volunteerism to help Jews and non-Jews, civic engagement, low crime rates, and almost no homelessness or youth criminality. 99% of the population lives in married-couple households, and 97% of Hasidic households have at least one breadwinner. The employment level among Hasidic men is similar to the rest of society. However, because Hasidim tend to marry as young adults and build families, it impacts income and poverty levels in two ways: A) People in their 20s earn only half of those in their mid-40s, even if both have the same education. B) More children at home elevates poverty rates because the rate is calculated by measuring income relative to family size. Indeed, the poverty rate in Hasidic-populated Kiryas Joel in 2020 for individuals ages 45 through 64 was lower than for the same demographic statewide. Hasidim have these excellent results despite receiving less than $1,400 in annual taxpayer school funds per student, while public school students receive more than $25,000. (Local vouchers and lunch programs are not included in either number).

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