A New York State Education Department decision that a Brooklyn yeshiva is not providing students adequate instruction also sharply calls into question city investigators’ oversight.
Commissioner Betty Rosa issued a memo last week concluding that Yeshiva Mesivta Arugath Habosem in south Williamsburg is not providing an education “substantially equivalent” to that of secular public schools under state law. Her 12-page decision overruled a recent recommendation from city Schools Chancellor David Banks that the yeshiva did meet state standards.
Rosa wrote that the city’s recommendation should be given “minimal weight” in her analysis, pointing out several deficiencies. She noted that city investigators had obtained grade data from the school covering science, math and English Language Arts “without any contextual information that would give them meaning.”
Rosa also emphasized a sudden reversal by the city's education department in 2021. The city initially indicated the yeshiva did not meet the “substantially equivalent” standard, only to change course in July “without additional evidence,” Rosa wrote.
The conflict between the two agencies emerged a month after the state education department tightened regulations over instruction at private schools, including yeshivas.
The state decision came in response to a lawsuit filed in 2019 by Brooklyn parent Beatrice Weber, who alleged that her sons attending Yeshiva Mesivta Arugath Habosem did not receive sufficient education in core subjects. She alleged her youngest son spoke English better than his third-grade teacher and that the yeshiva never issued report cards or homework for secular subjects.
Weber approved of the state’s decision but did not anticipate her 12-year-old son’s education improving anytime soon.
“In the long run, I think this will be a longer journey than his next two, three years at the school,” Weber said.
She questioned the integrity of the city’s review of the yeshiva. “How was the city able to provide this type of report? When in fact, it would not hold up to any rigor at all – what motivated them to say it's substantially equivalent when it's really not?” Weber said.
In 2019, the city’s Department of Investigation rebuked then-Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration for “political horse-trading” that resulted in delays of a probe into the quality of instruction at yeshivas.
The city's education department defended its work.
“We conducted a thorough, detailed investigation in this case involving multiple school visits and classroom observations, extensive reviews of curricular materials and interviews of school staff,” said Nathaniel Styer, a spokesperson for the city's education department, in a statement. “We welcome further guidance from the state and/or the courts that brings greater clarity regarding what is a substantially equivalent education – so that all private schools can be assessed fairly and there is transparency about the process and standard applied.”
The state education department's finding that the yeshiva was not in compliance was first reported on Wednesday by The New York Times.
A lawsuit over the new state guidelines of private schools was filed this week. A group of yeshivas and an advocacy group called Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools allege the “substantially equivalent” statute unfairly targets Jewish religious schools and violates freedom of speech and religion.
Richard Bamberger, a spokesman for the advocacy group, said the state finding showed the unfairness of the evaluation process.
"Educators from the city's Department of Education visited the school several times and determined that it met the substantial equivalence standard. It is disappointing that political appointees at the state education department won’t accept the city’s findings," Bamberger said in a statement.
The city education department and the yeshiva now have 60 days to develop a plan to bring the school into compliance by the end of the 2023-2024 school year.