What you need to know about the new state guidelines affecting Haredi schools

The guidance "seeks to address several questions which are likely to arise," but some questions remain.

Klausenberg Yeshiva in Williambsurg. Credit: Mo Gelber/Shtetl

Aug 3, 2023 2:45 PM


Much-awaited new guidelines released on Friday by the New York State Education Department are the latest installment in the public battle over the quality of education in Haredi private schools.

These new guidelines give local school authorities (LSAs) direction for implementing NYSED regulations on ‘substantial equivalency,’ a policy in which private schools are supposed to offer education on core subjects that is similar to or better than that offered in public schools. They come amid the conclusion of a New York City Department of Education investigation of 39 Haredi schools that stretches back to 2015. While the state sets the standards for non-public schools, the role of ongoing oversight and evaluation falls with the LSAs. 

The guidelines describe pathways schools can use in order to be considered substantially equivalent, impose deadlines for LSAs, and detail a process for filing complaints. The pathways most relevant to Haredi schools include: being a registered high school or affiliated with a registered high school, obtaining accreditation from an approved accreditation agency, administering approved assessments to students, and undergoing review by LSAs.

Here are some details from the guidelines that stand out:

Boys’ elementary schools can’t pass because of girls’ registered high schools.

Recently, when the New York City Department of Education released results of an investigation that showed that 18 yeshivas were failing to teach secular studies, one boys’ school was deemed substantially equivalent because it was associated with a registered high school – but the high school was a girls’ school that doesn’t admit boys, as Shtetl reported previously.

This DOE ruling relied on a regulation that allows elementary and middle schools that are closely associated with registered high schools to be deemed substantially equivalent.

Now, the state has clarified the criteria for this pathway. In order for an elementary or middle school to qualify, students at the school must actually be eligible to attend the high school they are claiming association with.

"If the students in the elementary and middle schools are precluded from attending if they do not meet the school’s enrollment criteria, that elementary/middle school cannot be deemed related and will need to select another pathway," the guidelines say.

With the new guidelines in place, that boys’ school that passed DOEs investigation, Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov, may be subject to additional scrutiny. “The Commissioner is reviewing the information submitted for this school,” Keshia Clukey, a spokesperson for NYSED, told Shtetl.

The state will use a new process to approve accreditation agencies. 

Another way schools can demonstrate substantial equivalency is to be accredited by an accreditation agency that is approved by NYSED for that purpose. The guidelines outline, for the first time, criteria for approval of an accreditation agency, including requiring the schools they inspect to “have curriculum that is informed by research” and that they “appropriately train all staff and peer reviewers who are involved in the accreditation process.” The guidelines also describe an application process for accreditation agencies. 

Assessments can show substantial equivalency.

A third pathway schools can use to show substantial equivalency for grades three and above is to administer annual standardized assessments. The guidelines do not specify a minimum proficiency rate, but the test results must show that students are progressing through the years. To meet this pathway, schools must use test results to identify strengths and weaknesses in their instruction. The tests must cover English and math in elementary school, science in middle and high school, and social studies in high school. A minimum participation rate applies, and NYSED would have the right to review the integrity of the testing process. 

One example of a school that could struggle with this requirement is the Central United Talmudical Academy, which had a 0% passing rate when it administered standardized tests in reading and math, according to a New York Times investigation. A complicating factor is that poor performance on some exams is a criterion for obtaining certain categories of state funding, and many Haredi schools receive such funding.

Questions remain about incorporating core subjects into religious curricula.

The guidelines suggest that required subjects – like math, science, and language arts – may be taught through a school’s religious studies. "Some schools have intellectually rigorous religious education programs that develop close reading, textual analysis, and other cognitive skills,” the guidelines read. "A nonpublic school may choose whether to integrate required instruction into religious classes either in whole or part for purposes of consideration by the LSA."

Exactly how a local school authority should evaluate that curriculum is left unclear, in part because the guidelines also state that “it is not appropriate for the LSA to review the religious content itself.”

Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, or PEARLS, which advocates for Haredi schools to get to dictate their own curricula, told Politico it is pleased that the guidelines recognize value in religious studies.

"PEARLS wholeheartedly agrees that religious studies classes in Haredi schools offer a challenging and rewarding intellectual experience that is surely relevant to any fair and complete assessment of yeshiva education," Richard Bamberger, a PEARLS spokesperson, said in a statement to the outlet.

Instruction provided under Every Student Succeeds Act can’t be used to establish substantial equivalency

Education provided through a federal government program that many Haredi schools use does not count toward meeting substantial equivalency requirements, according to the guidelines. "Instruction provided under the equitable services requirement of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) cannot be considered in determining whether substantially equivalent instruction is provided by a nonpublic school," the guidelines say. In September, the New York Times found that Hasidic boys’ schools benefit from about $100 million annually from a combination of Title 1, which is an ESSA program, and other sources of funding for secular education.

David Bloomfield, an education law professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, said that this rule makes sense given how ESSA works. Under a section of ESSA called ‘supplement not supplant,’ “the private schools must have underlying provision of the secular instruction to which the Title I classes are only additional,” Bloomfield said.

There are no explicit consequences for LSAs that fail to meet deadlines.

It is possible that NYSED has left a gap on enforcement with one of its major goals for the guidelines – establishing certain requirements and imposing consequences for failing to meet them. Bloomfield told Shtetl that, even though the guidelines carry multiple deadlines for local school authorities to complete certain work in tracking and assessing private schools, it is unclear what happens after those deadlines pass.

By Sept. 1, LSAs will have to make lists of all the private schools in their areas, including ones that aren’t currently in the state’s tracking system, and by June 30, 2025, they must “make required substantial equivalency determinations” for all private schools in their districts.

However, Bloomfield asserted, the guidelines lack consequences for the local school authorities that fail to meet these deadlines. “I think that, at a minimum, there should be a requirement that, if an LSA doesn’t meet the timelines, it must, in ten days, notify the commissioner of reasons for its failure,” Bloomfield said.

The regulations – which the guidelines are based on – do name a punishment for any city or district which “willfully omits and refuses to enforce the provisions of the compulsory education requirements” – the NYSED commissioner may withhold one half of funding from them.