Foundation system

The New York Times’ Botched Attack on Jewish Schools

There are lies, damn lies, and New York Times statistics.

Last Sunday the New York Times published a best-selling article on yeshivas, religious schools that serve Orthodox Jewish students. The play, full of half-truths and distortions, was clearly timed to influence a vote by the New York Board of Regents on a proposal to regulate private schools.

Although aimed at yeshivas, the proposal would require all private schools to prove that they provide education “substantially equivalent” to that provided by public schools, including a minimum time spent on several academic subjects. The council received more than 350,000 public comments, a record, overwhelmingly opposing the proposal.

Nevertheless, the New York Times the article seems to have had the intended effect. On Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to approve the settlement. There was no debate.

>>> Orthodox Jewish schools share the priorities of most Americans, regardless of what the NY Times says

Most yeshivas teach secular subjects, and many are among the top performing schools in the state, but a subset of Hasidic yeshivas focus primarily on religious instruction and downplay secular education. His rejection of the dominant culture and its values ​​has fueled the ire of New York Times.

The from the New York Times The narrative about the yeshivas is evident in its title: “In Hasidic Enclaves, Failing Private Schools End Up With Public Money.” Public money invites public scrutiny, and Hasidic yeshivas perform poorly, as measured by standardized test scores. The New York Times inevitably concluded: Yeshiva graduates, supposedly lacking basic skills, are doomed to a life of poverty and dependency. The government must therefore intervene.

But the New York Times failed to make his point on all counts. He relied on anecdotes and the selective use of data to deepen his narrative, carefully presenting the facts in a way designed to leave a desired impression while omitting key context that would undermine that narrative.

Are yeshivas “full” with taxpayers’ money? The New York Times claimed that Hasidic yeshivas had received approximately $1 billion in public funding over the past four years. That sounds like a lot, at least until you crunch the numbers.

The New York Times is vague about the number of schools it included in its financial analysis. The article claimed to focus on yeshivas serving 50,000 Hasidic boys, but it could have included schools serving north of 100,000 Orthodox students. This would mean that these schools receive about $2,500 to $5,000 per student in public assistance, most of which is funds for non-educational purposes such as food, transportation, and after-school child care. The New York Times identified only about $1,000 to $2,000 per student in primarily federal funding that is loosely tied to teaching, but this figure includes funds to “administer tests, verify attendance, report enrollment data, and purchase teaching materials”.

The New York Times omitted any mention of what is spent in the public system. New York City public schools are spending nearly $31,000 per student, not including $13 billion in federal COVID-19 aid. For the 2022-23 school year, NYC’s public school budget is $58 billion.

The yeshivas are not “flush” with public funding. Compared to public schools, yeshivas barely get a drop in the ocean. The New York Times also selected test data and made inappropriate comparisons to condemn yeshivas as academic failures.

First the New York Times deemed the High School Regents exam results unfit for print, saying they are uninformative because “very few Hasidic students take these tests”. The Regents Exams are the statewide standardized test in core subjects that New York high school students must pass to receive a Regents diploma. Students from all public schools and most private schools in New York take the exam. As the Jewish press reported, Regents’ scores “reveal that New York yeshiva students outperform their public school peers in the four majors of English, math, science, and history — by far.” Indeed, yeshivas earned “19 of the top 20 private school average scores in the New York English Examination.”

Instead, the New York Times chose to focus on the results of the New York State test administered to elementary school students even though, as with the Regents test, very few Hasidic students take it. However, this time the New York Times did not find the small sample size problematic, deeming the most negative results highly printable. “Only nine schools in the state had less than 1% grade-tested students in 2019,” said the New York Times reported breathlessly. “All were Hasidic boys’ schools.”

But comparing yeshiva students who speak Yiddish at home to the results of all students at other schools is not valid. The relevant comparison would be how yeshivas fare relative to students learning English in public schools who also come from homes where English is not the primary language. This reveals that there are 155 schools in New York where less than 1% of ELL students passed grade level on the 2019 English Language Arts exam. In fact, in over 95% of New York public schools, at least two-thirds of ELL students fail grades.

Students from homes where English is not the primary language spoken have difficulty passing state exams. This is as true for New York public schools as it is for yeshivas.

But do yeshivas leave their graduates totally destitute to earn a living, condemning them to dependency?

The New York Times asserted that “poverty rates in Hasidic neighborhoods [are] among the highest in New York. However, he offered no data, instead relying on anecdotes, such as the former Hasid who “struggled to get a medical degree”, to further the narrative.

Even assuming that New York Times is correct, poverty rates give a distorted picture of Hasidic earning power for two reasons. First, poverty rates are linked to family size, and Orthodox Jews have large families – about 6.5 children on average. This leads to the second reason: Larger families translate to a younger median age – 35 among the Orthodox Jewish population versus 46 for the general public. Since income increases with age, on average, the Orthodox Jewish community appears poorer than it actually is.

A better measure of earning capacity is household income. According to the 2021 Pew Research Center survey, 22% of Orthodox Jewish households earned more than $150,000, compared to 8% of the general public, and 26% of Orthodox Jews earned less than $50,000, compared to 48% of the general public. .

Granted, the Pew data for Orthodox Jews includes both Hasidic and non-Hasidic Jews, who tend to earn significantly more. But that follows a 2021 study by Nishma Research, which found Hasidic Jews had a median household income of $102,000, compared to $188,000 among Modern Orthodox. What is clear is that Hasidic Jews are just as or better prepared to earn a living than the median American.

>>> Supreme Court grants short-term victory to Pride Group, but encourages Yeshiva University to return

Completely unsuccessful in making its case, The New York Times desperately tried to portray yeshivas as schools filled with violence and fear. Again, he relied only on anecdotes and innuendo, reporting that “more than 35 men who attended or worked at a Hasidic school in the past decade told The Times that they had seen teachers hit students. with rulers, belts and sticks”.

In the only other attempt to quantify the extent of the problem, the article stated that “over the past five years, the New York City Police Department has investigated more than a dozen allegations of child abuse of children in schools,” though he conceded, “is unclear if anyone has been charged. Thirty-five reports of beatings over a decade and a dozen abuse allegations in five years is about five or six incidents per year, assuming they are all credible and not redundant.

In contrast, the New York Police Department’s School Safety Division reported 8,001 potentially criminal incidents at New York City public schools in a single year (2019). Some have resulted in arrests, although many are reports of minors. Others are imputable acts that have been turned over to school officials for discipline. Yet the shocking and pervasive level of violence in New York’s public schools is undeniable.

Even though teacher violence is believed to be somehow more dangerous than peer violence, various New York media outlets report that public school teachers are arrested for such things as “throwing a boy on the floor”, “strangle a student”, “sexual abuse”. ”, “push a student against a wall” and “threaten to shoot students” on a fairly regular basis. If that’s what a simple Google News search covering the past few months reveals, imagine what a two-year investigation would reveal about teacher misconduct in New York’s public schools.

Better yet, the New York Times should investigate how its own reporters so completely botched a front-page story that they spent two years investigating. It would be news worthy of printing.