NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Accusations are mounting that thousands of kids at New York City yeshivas are not learning the basics, and that Mayor Bill de Blasio is turning a blind eye to the problem.
CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer was demanding answers Thursday.
“I can read. I can read and write. I taught myself,” said former Satmar yeshiva student Ari Hershokwitz.
It was not a boast – just a very sand statement of fact, as Hershkowitz told CBS2’s Kramer about the poor education he received at a Hasidic yeshiva in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
“I left school when I was 18; after I was 18,” he said, “and I do not have a high school diploma or even the knowledge that a high school diploma comes with.”
Hershkowitz decided to pursue a more secular lifestyle – he wants a master’s degree in computers. But because the yeshiva did not comply with a state requirement that non-public schools provide an education “substantially equivalent” to public schools, Hershkowitz – now 20 – has to get a high school equivalency degree before he can even think about college.
“I am very angry with the people who could have changed it, but didn’t,” Hershkowitz said.
“We need the school system to look entirely different in the coming years,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “That is the mission I will be most focused on, that will be the issue I put my greatest passion and energy into.”
Mayor de Blasio – who says he has a passion for education – is among those who could have changed things, Kramer reported, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña also could have changed the situation.
More than two years ago, a group called Young Advocates for Education filed a complaint with the city, charging that at least 39 yeshivas did not meet the bare minimum teaching requirements for English, math and other state-mandated subjects – even though they receive tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.
Naftuli Moster, executive director of the group, says he is also a victim of poor education.
“In elementary school and some of middle school, we received approximately 90 minutes of secular education,” Moster said. “In high school, we got no secular education at all.”
The negative attitude toward secular education is dramatically depicted in the documentary “One of Us,” in which a Hasidic mother shows her second grade son’s workbook and all the pictures of girls are blocked out.
“How does my son circle this answer, ‘Sally trips?’” the woman in the documentary says as she points to two blacked-out images of girls in a multiple-choice question. “How does he know which one’s which?”
Moster said he does not understand Mayor de Blasio’s reluctance to enforce the law.
“Every other law is being enforced, right? Speed limits are enforced; car seats; you know, seat belts. Everything is being enforced. There’s really no reason why this particular law is not being enforced,” Moster said.
Actually, there is one possible reason – politics. A few years ago, the mayor was facing reelection and was loath to offend voters in the Hasidic community – many of whom defend the status quo.
But the real question is why the Department of Education has failed to act. Kramer demanded answers and found out that the agency has done startlingly little in finding out what is going on in the yeshivas.
Aloysee Jarmoszuk, DOE chief of staff for the Division of Operations: “We’ve been to six schools in the last two years, correct.”
Kramer: “It doesn’t seem like that’s really aggressive. It’s like not even like one a month.”
Jarmoszuk: “It takes time to go in and get the story.”
Kramer: “When are you going to do something?”
Jarmoszuk: “We are doing something. We’re investigating the matter.”
Kramer: “But no action has bene taken, and in the meantime, more and more kids are going without an education.”
Jarmoszuk: “We’re fully investigating the matter. We take this seriously, and our investigation is aggressive.”
And even though the agency said six schools have been visited, no classroom changes have been implemented. That will not happen until all the schools are investigated and a report is issued – whenever that is.
And for the record, when the complaint was first brought, the chancellor said the investigation should take about a month.