The Jewish Press reports the following:
Regents examination scores recently obtained by The Jewish Press under a Freedom Of Information Law request.
These scores reveal that New York yeshiva students are outperforming their public school peers in the four core subjects of English, math, science, and history – by far.
Quantity does not always equal quality. Certainly not with respect to the quantity of time spent by students on the core subject rightly mandated by the New York State Education Department (NYSED).
While NYSED justifiably requires certain core subject to be taught in any school that they certify, equal time requirements should not be part of the equation. At least not as a minimal standard. The students at Yeshiva high schools and girls schools do not spend the kind of time daily on those subjects that public schools do. And yet the religious schools outperformed the public schools.
(Interestingly - the schools that did best on those tests were all Beis Yaakov type girls high schools. The reasons for this would make for an interesting discussion but are beyond the scope of this post.)
But that Yeshiva students do better on the Regents is not the full story. There are a number of factors that might explain it. First it is rather well established Judaism places a high value on education. Which means that the vast majority of Jewish families tend to be highly motivated to learn. And thereby tend do well on tests like this. This is not a denominational or even a Hashkafic issue. It is true across the board. Differences might only be in exactly what they study and the emphasis placed on various of its educational components.
That a school does not have a secular curriculum does not mean the students aren’t motivated to study and learn. It’s just that they are learning Torah only. The motivation to learn is should be obvious to anyone with the slightest bit of knowledge of what Yeshivos are all about. The common denominator of all Jewish schools is the motivation be educated.
Not all public school parents are motivated that way. Especially in inner city public schools where in some cases students learn practically nothing. Some cannot even read even after ‘completing’ 4 years of high school. Which brings the Regent test score averages way down.
So the comparison is not entirely valid. If one were to conduct a fair study it would require a double blind study of exactly the same curricula taught by the same teachers in areas where education is equally valued. And the only variable being the time allocation. Those kinds of results might tell a different story.
Be that as it may, it should nevertheless be clear that doing well on the New York regents by Yeshiva students that do not spend the same amount of time on the subjects as do by students in public schools tested do quite well. And as a minimum requirement, schools should be not be forced into some sort of arbitrary time requirement.
One may ask,why there should be any time requirements? As long as the students do well enough on the New York Regents, that would indicate that they are getting the minimum education the state of New York requires. So that even if they avoid any secular studies at all that would be OK as long as they learn the material that they would be tested on.
I hear that. But my guess is that offering no secular studies curriculum at all would mean doing very poorly on those tests. No matter how valuable the religious side of the education is, there would still be key elements missing.
The optimal approach for NYSED to take in my view would be to retain the secular curriculum requirement. But to change the time allocation requirement based on the amount of time spent by the schools whose students did well on the Regents. As the time allocation requirements stand now, a decent religious education would be nearly impossible. And it ought to be opposed by all of us. But it is not an all or nothing proposition for us.
Which brings me back to those schools that refuse to offer any secular curriculum at all. The ones that are claiming ‘Shmad’ about these new rules. They have called on all of Orthodoxy to protest these new guidelines in their entirety with the claim that it is a violation of church state separation clause in the constitution..
It is not. Requiring a core secular curriculum in no way impedes one religious beliefs and practices. If it did there would be no Orthodox school offering one. The fact is that the vast majority of Orthodox schools do offer one. Even most Charedi ones. One might quibble about whether certain schools devote enough time to it or how much they actually value it. But in point of fact they almost all offer something. Some of the more modern ones tend to offer a truly excellent secular studies curriculum. Without devoting the kind of time currently being required by NYSED’s new guidelines.
But I’ve already made that argument about the importance of a good secular studies program. The question therefore is not whether or not to require it at all - which is what Satmar types schools argue is their right. But how much time to allocate to those studies at a minimum in order for them to be considered in compliance with the educational goals of the state.
The answer is to look at all the schools that did well on the Regent exam and to see how much time they allocate to those subjects. And then base their time allocation requirements on that.
What they should definitely NOT do is to certify any school that avoids a secular studies curriculum entirely. That is what Satmar would like. And they are asking all Orthodox organizations to join them in protesting the new guidelines in their entirely.
In my view no Orhtodox institution should join them in that quest. Joining them helps them perpetuate of ignorance. in one of the largest and fating growing segments of Orthodoxy. An ignorance that negatively impacts their earning power as adults. And perhaps even more importantly will perpetuate ignorance about good citizenship. Which in my view is one of the underlying reasons why Satmar so actively seeks prison reform. And is willing to spend millions of its own money doing so!.