US hassidic schools agree to improve secular education

August 7, 2016  

As the Core Curriculum law was repealed in Israel, scuttling an attempt by the previous government to enforce teaching the Core Curriculum in haredi schools, a struggle over similar issues has been taking place in the US.

Certain haredi and hassidic elementary and high schools in New York have been teaching secular studies at a very low level, or not at all, though this is against state law and organizations made up of people who have left these communities have been demanding that the government intervene and force the schools to get their secular studies education up to snuff, so as to give students the tools to make a living in the modern world when they grow up.

The Forward reported tonight that the schools have promised to provide better secular education starting from the coming school year.

Department of Education (DOE) spokeswoman Devora Kaye is quoted as saying that the Hassidic yeshivas had “committed to begin altering their curricula to include better and more secular education as early as next year.”

Kaye said that the schools would implement a “high-quality, common core-aligned curriculum as soon as possible.”

However, no information was forthcoming as to what precisely the new curricula will look like, leaving some advocates dissatisfied.

Naftali Moster is the founder of the advocacy group Young Advocates for Fair Education, whose July 2015 letter to the DOE launched an investigation into the schools. “This lack of transparency seems like a deliberate ploy to evade accountability,” Moster said.

Another group involved in the matter is Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, or PEARLS, who have been advocating for the hassidic schools and also trying to improve standards, but not by state imposition.

According to Attorney Avi Schick, who advises PEARLS, meetings between representatives of the schools and the city of New York have yielded greater mutual understanding of the issues. “The city now has a good clear and accurate picture of the education received by the children,” Schick told The Forward.

Though PEARLS shares Moster and his group’s goal of improving secular education in the schools, they have been very critical of the tactics employed by Young Advocates for Fair Education, espousing a gradual approach without government impositions.

“People should understand that the yeshiva system is the core and backbone of our community,” said Rabbi David Niederman, a founding member of PEARLS, and a leader in the Satmar hassidic community. “It’s not by accident that our graduates have been successful in Fortune 500 companies, own successful businesses, and contribute to medicine and every type of activity.”

Niederman acknowledged that hassidic yeshivas were “working on improving,” but said that “Rome was not built in one day.”

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