Yeshivas

Incompetent teachers and confused students at Hasidic yeshivas, new DOE documents show

Newly released documents from the NYC education department show troubling patterns at Hasidic yeshivas, including possibly fraudulent classes staged for DOE officials

Mosdos Chasidei Square in Borough Park. Credit: Shtetl

Jan 29, 2024 6:15 PM

Updated: 

Jan 29, 2024 7:55 PM

Documents newly obtained by Shtetl show that education officials who visited Hasidic yeshivas in Brooklyn found teachers confused about their own lessons, providing students with erroneous information, and not knowing their students’ names.

Education advocates also said the reports raised questions about whether the classes were staged for education officials rather than regular lessons.

The documents, which were not previously made public and which Shtetl obtained through the New York Freedom of Information Law, are letters sent by the New York City Department of Education to state officials on June 30. The schools, all located in Brooklyn, were visited by the DOE following a 2015 complaint by YAFFED, an organization that advocates for secular education in Haredi schools. The complaint alleged that at these schools, secular studies consisted only of rudimentary English and math, taught for an overage of 90 minutes a day, four days a week.

The newly released documents show problems even more damning. 

After observing a sixth-grade science class at Yeshiva Beth Hillel of Williamsburg, officials reported that “at times during the lesson, the teacher struggled to remember the names of various organs and parts of the body.”

At Mosdos Chasidei Square in Williamsburg, a math teacher “repeatedly referred to the denominator as the ‘dominator,’” the DOE said. Another teacher told a student he answered a math problem incorrectly — except, according to the visiting official, “the student was correct.”

During a social studies class at Bobover yeshiva Benei Zion, officials reported that “some of the information provided was inaccurate.” At another school, officials found that a teacher lacked “sufficient familiarity with the subject matter.” 

A lack of lesson plans, or students and teachers being generally confused about their lessons, was another common theme.

At a math class at Mosdos Chasidei Square in Williamsburg, a teacher asked the students to take out their red crayons. “Students seemed confused as they did not have crayons,” the report says. The teacher, apparently realizing for the first time that the students didn’t have crayons, moved on to the next page.

During one sixth-grade social studies lesson about the Gilded Age, which the visiting official described as “hard to follow,” the teacher veered off at one point to talk “about Syria and Muammar Gaddafi.” Muammar Gaddafi was the ruler of Libya, not Syria.

In another class, “the teacher told a personal anecdote for much of the lesson that was not relevant to the subject matter,” according to the report.

At many schools, the students didn’t seem to learn much at all.

Regarding fourth-graders at Yeshiva Bnos Ahavas Yisroel, officials noted that “a few students struggled to write in English.” The lessons, the report also noted, “lacked rigor.” 

At another school, students “did not complete assignments given, nor provided with assistance or support from the teacher,” DOE officials wrote.

In one glaring report, regarding a fourth-grade social studies class at Torah V’Yirah, a Satmar school in Williamsburg, “the teacher did not appear to know the students’ names,” officials said.

Beatrice Weber, the executive director of YAFFED, said these details could point to fraudulent behavior on the schools’ part. “The school evaluators should always be alert for the possibility of teachers being hired ‘for the day’ to create the staging of a classroom situation, when in fact classes don't exist,” Weber told Shtetl. “This could create a situation where a teacher would not know the student's name nor the school supplies they have on hand.”

Michelle Fine, an education professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, said the incidents laid out in the documents suggest an education system that is severely lacking. “The patterns are troubling,” she said. “No matter what, this is terrible pedagogy and school design.”

The worst among the schools appeared to be Yeshiva Talmud Torah of Kasho, in Williamsburg, with DOE officials noting “the school’s refusal to cooperate” and that “the DOE team did not observe any instruction taught in English.” Several requests for follow-up visits by DOE officials were refused by school administrators.

Based on its reviews, the DOE recommended that state officials find the schools to be inadequate. In November, the state did as the DOE recommended. The state determined that, while some schools were better than others, none of the schools met the state’s requirements for providing an education that was substantially equivalent to that of public schools. The state then sent letters to the schools demanding that they form plans to reach the required state standards for secular education.

Shtetl reached out to school administrators in Satmar and Skver by email and phone, but they did not immediately provide comment.

Lauren Hakimi is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Forward, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, New York Jewish Week, WNYC/Gothamist and more. She graduated from CUNY Hunter College with degrees in history and English literature. Hailing from an Iranian Jewish community on Long Island, she looks forward to shining a light on stories that matter to the Jewish community. Follow her on Twitter @lauren_hakimi.