SUBSTANTIALLY UNFAIR: New York City’s Flawed Yeshiva Investigation


(By Richard Altabe)

New York City has just completed its investigation of yeshivas. While many details are still shrouded in mystery, this much we know for sure: the City gave most yeshivas a failing grade.

If education and educational improvement was the true purpose of the investigation, one would expect that the City would delineate the strengths and weaknesses of the yeshivas it reviewed.

Instead, the City leak to the New York Times places 18 schools in same category: failure. And not just failure. It is as if each school got a zero on the final exam. There is no detail, discussion or differentiation.

If its purpose was to validate existing stereotypes about yeshivas, the City succeeded. The media narrative that it fed was that chassidic yeshivas all fail to adequately educate their students.

Imagine how you would feel if your school that enhanced its curriculum and increased its professional development over the past several years; In spite of those efforts, and the funds expended, your school is listed as failing without any explanation. No distinction is made between your school and one that ignored the City and barred its reviewers from the school.

If any educator would grade his or her entire class as failing without offering an explanation of how the grade was arrived at, they would be laughed or chased out of school. If all students are labeled as failing and equally criticized, there is no incentive for improvement.

A prior report issued by Mayor de Blasio’s administration grouped the schools into several different categories. Many were categorized as “well developed” and approaching equivalency. What happened to those schools? Did they improve? Stagnate? Regress? Did they fall just short of equivalency? Did they fail for some technical reason?

We don’t know, because the City has not told us.

Perhaps the New York Times and anti-yeshiva advocates are happy. After all, for them the entire project was about labeling yeshivas as inadequate.

But from an educational perspective, wasn’t it supposed to be about improvement? But what school will make any effort to change when no matter what steps are taken they will be labeled as poor performing and non equivalent schools?

The City has demonstrated that it simply does not care about improving these schools. But labeling them as bad and scoring points with those who seek to deny parents the right to determine the type of education that best suits their families is an abdication of the City’s role.

As a long time principal, if a teacher who worked for me submitted report card grades without distinguishing the individual strengths and weaknesses of the students, I would put that teacher on notice. The City should be on notice that it and not all yeshivas deserve a failing grade.

The bottom line is that if the City does not care about the strengths, weaknesses and actual performance of these schools why should anyone else

Richard Altabe has served as a renowned educator and community advocate for more than 40 years

(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)


  1. Who is the ringmaster in this dog and pony show?
    There is obviously someone well connected who is pushing this at every level.

  2. You live in the Galus and you would like to be treated fairly? On what basis do you believe that the galus was created in order for the Jews to be treated fairly?

  3. Missing the point.

    During the times of Chanukah, they started off by trying to push sports, then they said learn Greek philosophy, then they said only learn rational mitzvos until eventually they persecuted us for everything.

    We have to all stick together including the schools that don’t teach secular studies lishitisum. Or they will eventually come after all of us.

  4. The Yeshivos don’t teach toevah so they failed. It’s that simple. This has nothing to do with educational improvement. They want to force their perversions on young Jewish minds. It’s all they care about.

  5. Maybe, we should just accept the fact that most yeshiva education is not on par. As much as we value the Torah, it is possible from a secular perspective we are behind standards. Even if public school education is terrible, we need to make sure people have the proper background to make parnassah.

    Just a thought.

  6. Really? Are you assuming definitely that there is not a rubric/info/explanation attached to the report? Because you saw the summary that was leaked? Either way, do you really believe a chassidish yeshiva in Williamsburg gives an English education on par with the worst public schools? We know that many of those yeshiva’s barely teach secular education, why do we lie? We are not fooling anyone, we are just empowering those who claim jews lie cheat and steal. No in saying anyone should be moser, but at the same time, don’t lie when the truth comes out. In fact, by lying, you are are being a moser, by making it appear that we’re liars, when most of us aren’t, but they won’t differentiate.

  7. But the Public Schools are Excellent , in what aspect ???????/
    what a joke , ONE BIG Anti-………
    Dont forget the most educated society Mein Reich Y’MAshV
    what they had done for the Human race………………
    (NY times included in this Character FUUUUUU)
    DONT Get downgraded by these Bas…………….

  8. Admin: Please post!!!
    I really need to give my two cents and explain it the way I heard emestige people talk! The idea of not educating on many of the subjects required are a disgrace and should have never gotten to this point. We (many of us; the parent body), wanted a successful secular curriculum but so many (not only the hanhalah, but other parents too), don’t and never did care! The amount of bitul zman and troublemaking while in English, has become a vital question if we’re being oiver and teaching our children to act in a bad way (doesn’t need much explaining). We have no word as a body of the few, to force our views on majority of parents that don’t care!

    Now back to the situation: It becomes a precedence when a government body (especially the promised democratic USA), gets involved to tell us how to run our Yeshivah. It was NEVER accepted as valid practice: neither by reb Chaim Ozer, R’Chaim brisker, Rogatshover, Rashab of lubavitch, slonimer rebbe, and others! Don’t say times have changed, because the main stance in the Kol koreis and speeches from the above mentioned, was indeed because the government got involved!

    So even if the times have changed (and I agree that we should learn the “many” subjects required), having our religious beliefs challenged and allowing entry to our practices in the institutions, is intolerable and not acceptable!

    About Golus, it’s know that at a Petersburg conference, the Rashab (I’m not lubavitch), screamed out in front of those great gedolim that our gufim are in golus but our neshamahs, Hashem never gave over to the goyim and is not considered as not accepting the ol of gulos: yidden be moiser nefesh for this! Most gedolim agreed with him, including r’Chaim (its a known fact that they were close and respected each other)!

    The biggest problem is: yes, we needed and still need to use doron, tefillah, but milchamah should’ve always been used as an added rhetoric for the success of the mission(milchama, meaning, mesoros nefesh and having the government KNOW (not only believe), that we’re ready to go to jail, etc… We need of course to let them know to keep there money if that’s the issue! The lack of leadership to demand this and point this out to the authorities is what is keeping us in this hole.

    I hope I answered all the comments but I’d love to hear if I’m wrong and provide me with “constructive, criticism.

  9. In any rubric oriented evaluation Yeshivas get a 4. The top. This is because there is a high attendance rate beli ayin hara. And learning is going on in every class at all times courtesy of mechanchim who are yirei shomayim. Therefore the educational evaluations if done correctly support our Yeshivas.

  10. huju,

    Again, you mock the author for not having perfect English according to professional standards.

    I understood this article perfectly. I wasn’t able to discern any obvious mistakes. This might be because I never received a English education, but what’s the difference?
    The purpose of getting a secular education is in order to be able to communicate properly and make a living. The author seems to have no problem with this. He was eaily able
    So what if his English has subtle mistakes that are only noticeable to writing experts?

    The author (if he indeed went to a “failing school” as you claim) spent tens of thousands of hours focused on the eternal and holy wisdom of the Torah instead of wasting his time improving his English to unnecessary levels.

  11. @richashu,
    just to note, our chachamim have many a time stated that our guf-bodies were sent into galus, but our neshamot are never and can never go into galus. there is no such thing as hisgarus beumos when it comes to an affront to Torah, to our souls.
    On this we have to stand up and fight tooth-and-nail!

  12. To clarify:

    I’m not saying that products of “failing schools” make no literary mistakes (I myself made several mistakes in my last post).

    The question is if having a perfect English is the main purpose of school.

    Secular studies change every few years. Torah study remains the same for thousands of years.
    Spend your time learning something temporary or eternal?

  13. @DovidRichman613, i hope it is only a thought or maybe you can refer to the comments above they have well answered your point.
    @ccb45, “The amount of bitul zman and troublemaking while in English” etc, if you look at the good side, you’ll appreciate that your child understands that kodesh is so important and respects as such, but that English is sub to kodesh. and don’t go saying your child will never no the basics and will fail etc. in life if he/she doesn’t have that education, because i fully believe your child/ren would still know English without it. it is something you pickup from the surroundings.
    you don’t need to learn about the wild west, or about professor i-don’t-know-who or about some American general in order to succeed. And I say this as someone who went through the system (in the UK) and am “fully” qualified in many subjects, NONE of which help me an iota today. I have succeeded B”H. None of those stupid time wasting so called skills helped. sorry!

  14. The mere fact that the city still hasn’t informed the community leaders, liasons or advocates to the Jewish community, but, instead has chosen to disclose the secret findings to the New York Slimes is, and of itself problematic and disconcerting. The city well knows the relationship between the yeshiva community and the wretched, failing paper yet the city chose to disclose its findings to them. That is obviously objectionable and, I SUBMIT, a disqualification of the entire investigation findings. In court, a judge would dismiss such a disclosure as contemptuous. This, on its face, is just that CONTEMPTUOUS!

  15. @pure Yiddishkeit:

    I don’t fully agree with you because for many reasons gedolei yisroel actually supported 2 hours of English per day (as was in Bobov)! The Bobover rebbe as well as others, had no qualms about having a basic secular education so they can live in a world that requires skills! He placed a principle Rabbi Pesach Kupitz (which was a r”m in mesivtsh and a big Talmud chochom and ovid Hashem). He had polish and kotzk derech but yet encouraged English (the name we call the time and place spent)!

    He did rip some pages from books and/or covered pictures that should not be seen! I understand not everyone had that opinion about English but one can use even one respected Godul to see that it’s “nisht geferlach”, to say the least!

    I do have a problem nowadays with social studies and all types of history taught in the classical books because society and history (think Clinton and toeivos) are rampant and not censored by the goyim. Perhaps a moderated version might address this problem, but I can lean to leave those out (btw, it would be nice and needed to teach our kids full history of our nation, which can be taught by using artscroll or other sources)! Also, of course all these stupid x education and garbage we don’t associate with and is bh not an issue by us.

    So, mathematics, science, reading and writing, penmanship, spelling, dialect (might be missing something), is a good thing to learn! Not everyone has this strong tfisah to pick it up on their own and not everyone can start their own business! Some can learn accounting, while others without basic math “can” struggle. I actually failed the pre-requisite test but they allowed me to join; result: failed to continue. Just an example of course but it’s not fair to expect everyone to grasp studies needed to succeed. And, of course, nothing wrong with it!!!

  16. I respect Richard Altabe tremendously, and I respect all yeshivos even more. However, I am shocked that Richard Altabe would choose to publish a letter so full of glaring errors in grammar… precisely about the topic of sub-par secular education in Yeshivos.
    I am astounded, confused and very upset.
    This letter will simply fan the flames.

  17. To Menachem Schlemiel:

    1. I did not criticize the author for not writing in perfect English. I criticized him for writing in terrible English.

    2. You cannot know for certain whether you completely understood the author unless you have spoken to him. You did not say you did.

    3. You say the author writes English well enough to make himself understood, notwithstanding that I and some other commenters say they did not understand him.

    4. I did not mock the author. I did mock you by mangling your screen name. Pretty clever.

  18. It’s really embarrassing how the Yeshiva community is handling this situation. Why can’t we admit that there are some Yeshiva which completely do not teach a satisfactory secular education. THAT’S THE TRUTH. In Lakewood, which is in NJ and thus not bounded by the NY DOE, there a Yeshivos who don’t teach basic math! We should be embarrassed about this! Not defending them.

  19. What happened to the Gemera in Shabbos that science and mathematics are our “Chachmaschem U’Binaschem Beinei HaAmim?” We should have frum mathmeticians and chemists! Not just people who feel that if they don’t learn in kollel then their only choice is to make a lot of money in order to feel respected. Where is our Jewish pride?!

  20. pure yiddishkeit

    “you don’t need to learn about the wild west, or about professor i-don’t-know-who or about some American general in order to succeed”

    It depends on how you define success. According to the broad NY State society, which we are a part of, and thus bound to what they think. It is a failure of education if we do not know about the Irish Potato Famine. That is because there are many Irish people in NY. It’s the same how we would feel if NY schoolchildren never heard about the Holocaust. How can we do this to the Irish, or to the Japanese (I learnt about Korematsu vs the US in yeshiva), or the Italians (I also learnt about Sacco and Vanzetti there as well), and of course the African American and Hispanic American experience. This is absolutely necessary knowledge according to NY society and it is a reall slap in the face to the varius ethinic groups here for it to all be made fun of.

  21. “NONE of which help me an iota today. I have succeeded B”H. None of those stupid time wasting so called skills helped. sorry”

    How do you know?! You know, my mother used to teach me what different animals were and what sounds they make when I was a toddler. What a waste of time?! I could have learnt that a pig says oink and a horse says neigh if I needed to when I got older.

    Or…learning about the world as a kid helps you organize and process the incredible amount of sensory information you get every day and obviously helps you in life. Imagine if someone never heard of slavery and then goes off into Manhattan with no knowledge of American history. He would have NO WAY of processing ANY political information whatsoever. How can he be expected to vote for candidates?! That’s just a societal example but, in addition, it obviously is an essential quality of Homo sapiens that we can organize information in efficient ways using subconscious knowledge which we learn as we develop through childhood.

  22. @Dan the,

    You’re stepping on very slippery ground here. The Irish stuff and slavery, I really don’t have a problem with. But the times have changed so much to the worse that many things are best to be left out.

    There is: lo nicha lu and lo ichpas lu. One, means, I don’t care. With that, we can include the Irish and slaves and much more. But the lo nicha lu is much stronger where we abhors and need to scorn the behaviour of the world and not allow the poison permeate our midst.

    About elections: you really want our youth to learn about the stuff the Supreme Court is busy with (talking eidel) and the garbage and shmutz involved? We have no choice but to listen to askanim on that. Ein breira. We should anyway listen to them but if you don’t want to, you need to learn the issues and that’s “possibly” an issur!

    You’re bordering on liberalism. We have a Torah and need to follow it! True, Torah doesn’t say to not learn English but admitting to government or being compliant, will only embolden them to get further entangled in our business. Get out of our lives is what we need to hear from our askanim say! No, we don’t need your money but leave us alone!

    Privately, we should possibly have a revolution where patents should demand education!

    One has nothing to do with the other and there are no stiras.

  23. This episode has been going on for about 10 years now. It amazes me each time such an article is published that there are those that think if we just do what the SED wants everything will be fine. The NY Times articles and the SED decisions have proven that all these thugs want is to control our way of living and learning. They look at the yeshiva system in general as an antiquated backwards system although we have B”H plenty of very highly successful yeshiva graduates. This has all to do about control and ZERO to do with education.

  24. @ccb45,
    I see there might have been a misunderstanding here, and i see from the way i wrote it i can understand your response. I chalilah did not mean to Bash Gedolim, heaven forbid.
    It is well known that The Bobover Rav (as you said), the Satmar Rav and many others held of basic studies (at least English), that was not my point (but i understand and apologize for make it sound like that).
    I meant more to bring out that the form of now-a-days twisting what our hailige Gedolim were, by making the dagesh on secular studies, as if that is the most sacred thing- Ch”v even more than Kodesh, when they paskened to learn the basic studies because of the need, without making it a most important-impossible-to-live-without need.
    End point is, without the Torah, we are not Jews. Our life, our oxygen, our very essence is the Kodesh and studying the Torah. We cannot survive without it. Though, without limudey chol, it is still possible (albeit hard) to live without studying English, but our Gedolim had the foresight to understand that we need it, but definitely not on par and of similar importance to limudey Kodesh ch”v.
    ore so, the filth they add in all the curricula now-a-days under the innocent name of English is beyond doubt not what the Gedolim ztl”l meant- agree?

  25. But you still must admit to look at the good side, that the respect they have in kodesh that is not present in chol can also be understood as a good point (and i say this as being someone involved in many areas of chinuch, having been kodesh rebbe, a chol teacher and other areas of chinuch).

  26. @Dan the,
    you made some very valuable points, but the one about Jewish chemists etc is what is the exact point i meant to argue: Not that intrisically your are wrong, as you brought a gemara, there is an arguemant to make, but why in all the generations, did our Gedolim not make that the chov kadosh?
    Simply, because we have to remember what is the Ikar and Tafel.
    What outweighs what in importance.
    Successful Yidishkeit does not equal Jewish chemists etc. There is a certain point and it is a sugya. but the trodden path by our ancestors, Rabbanim, Gedolim etc is the best and safest way to go, instead of seeking to pasture in other fields with all the mekoros in the world.

  27. It’s hysterical to see people supporting secular “education” imposed by the NYS when their public schools are failing, perverted brainwashing, criminal producing, institutions. In addition, I know plenty of people who know English fluently and learnt all the relevant topics in school, in college and universtites, but have absolutely no money to buy the basics. Meanwhile, the Chassidish, supposedly non-educated, people are doing ( relatively) great, b”H. No one in our communities are starving (mildly speaking; look at all the advertisements of meat-boards and other such materialistic narishkeiten), even the poorest of Chassidim live on a standard that is generally higher than public school “graduates” ( a big percentage of public school students don’t even graduate…) And don’t talk to me about government programs, if a huge percentage of blacks, Latinos, whites and illegals all over the US get government handouts so can frum Jews. There’s a huge percent of frum Jews, Chassidish and otherwise, paying taxes for all the illegals and all other who get free handouts-why shouldn’t frum people? Frum people are a tiny percentage of all others who get government handouts so it’s ridiculous and racist to bash those in the frum communtites on governemnt programs.

  28. @philosopher,
    i totally agree with you!
    i think though, not everyone here is “supporting secular “education” imposed by the NYS”.
    Some have just made a valuable point that most Gedolim e.g. Satmar Rebbe, Bobover Rebbe, R’ Ahren Kotler etc etc supported basic English/math knowledge, but obviously not that what goyim put down with clear sinister intentions!!

  29. pure yiddishkeit, I totally agree with you regarding the the importance of yeshivas teaching basic English language and math skills. It is debilitating not to be able to understand, to read and to write basic English, not to be able to fill out forms at the doctor’s office nor to speak at a business meeting. This is not the 18th century where you live in a shtetl your entire life and get by with only knowing Yiddish. Today we use the English language on a daily basis, it is a deliberate crippling of children to deny them the basics. This is not something the NYS Dept of ED should have to force upon yeshivos. But regardless, it is not the government’s goal to make sure that frum yeshivos teach basic English and math otherwise they would make sure their own students are proficient those subjects and not be busy “educating” their students about gender pronouns… No, their aim, under the guise of “education”, is to destroy what is still decent.