Teach NYS Confirms 3.5 Hour Daily Core Subject Requirement (Grades 7 and 8) in NYSED Enforcement Guidance

On November 20th, 2018, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) issued its Substantial Equivalency Guidance regarding curriculum requirements for non-public schools. Since the issuance of this Guidance, Teach NYS, a project of the Orthodox Union, has been working with our school partners, leadership, and advocates in Albany to understand and begin to address these requirements and enforcement measures.
Concurrently, we have been communicating with government officials and others in Albany to help them understand and address the myriad of issues relating to the Guidance.

In summary response to the questions our member schools are asking, there are two issues that we are prepared to report on now. First, with regard to high schools, NYSED’s Guidance provides that all registered high schools are already in compliance and have no further obligations. Virtually all of the high schools in the Teach NYS network are registered with NYSED. Second, in response to our inquiries, NYSED provided written clarification that the mandatory units of daily secular study are not more than one per grade for core subjects (English, Math, Social Studies, and Science). This translates to 3.5 required hours of required instruction per day (not counting physical education) for grades 7-8.
We held off distributing this important information until we could confirm this clarification at senior levels of NYSED, which we received from multiple NYSED sources yesterday.

Philosophically, we believe that there are additional open issues that need to be addressed. First, we are extremely concerned about government regulation of the curriculum of religious day schools and Yeshivas. Our educational institutions should have the right to fashion our children’s education in a manner consistent with our Torah values and a curriculum that fosters the inculcation of such values and our religious tenets. Second, we are extremely concerned that the locus of enforcement authority with respect to State mandates sits with local school authorities. To the extent that workable guidelines are to be formulated, they require clarity and consistency which can be achieved only by centralized formulation and implementation.

Process concerns us also. Subsequent to the issuance of the November 20th Guidance, a number of organizations, coalition partners, heads of school, and Roshei Yeshiva appropriately reached out to NYSED to seek clarification on a number of issues. Teach NYS likewise reached out to NYSED. While some of our questions have been answered, we have been in contact with our coalition partners, including prominent Roshei Yeshiva, and are advised that others, including these Roshei Yeshiva, have made specific inquiries and requests that have yet to receive responses. We have urged NYSED to reach out to all parties to deal with these inquiries; an open discussion with all parties is important to avoid further aggravating an already difficult and confusing situation. Lastly, we note that the written responses we received from NYSED (which are set forth in full below) were accompanied by a commitment by NYSED to incorporate this and other clarifications into its Guidance. To date, no such revised Guidance has been issued. We urge NYSED, in the strongest terms possible, to clarify its Guidance as it has committed to do.

To conclude: We have been, and remain, extremely concerned by State regulation of Yeshiva and day school curriculum. We strongly believe that any enforcement of the Guidance should be at the State level, not the local level. We call upon NYSED to issue their revised Guidance forthwith, and to make a concerted effort to engage with all organizations and groups that seek to engage with them.

Moving forward: Over the coming months, Teach NYS will work together with our coalition partners to seek appropriate clarifications and modifications of the Guidance and will continue to report to you on a regular basis with respect to our progress. In the interim, if there are any questions regarding this advisory, or any other aspects of the Guidance, please feel free to contact Maury Litwack, our Executive Director, with any questions.

Set forth below are the details of our correspondence with NYSED

: How many hours of instruction are required per day?

Based on the mandatory units of study found in “Appendix A,” Teach NYS informed NYSED that the new Substantial Equivalency Guidance requires at least 7.2 hours of instruction each day for grades 7 and 8. 7.2 hours far exceed the NYS compulsory education law requirement of 5.5 hours. Teach NYS informed NYSED of this inconsistency in the Guidance and requested an explanation.

: NYSED responded by email informing us that the language in “Appendix A” of the Guidance was not clear and would be clarified to explain that students are to receive such instruction by the end of grade 8.

For example, two units of study for English language arts must be completed by the end of grade 8 (one unit in grade 7 and one unit in grade 8). Two units of study in English language arts are not required in each grade, 7 and 8. This pertains to all of the requirements, with the exception of library and information skills. What this means is that a school must only offer a minimum of 180 minutes per week (around 36 minutes per subject, per day) of English, Math, Social Studies, and Science for grades 7 and 8.

: Teach NYS informed NYSED that the law only requires grades 7 and 8 to meet the units of study hourly requirements; the units of study do not apply to grades 5 and 6. Teach NYS requested that NYSED confirm that grades 5 and 6 are not required to meet the units of study requirement or provide an explanation with the supporting regulation.

: NYSED responded that they will work through how to resolve differences in the structure of State intermediate learning standards and current regulation. A clarification will be posted shortly.

Additional Views

Judaic Curriculum and Equivalency: It continues to remain unclear which parts of our Judaic studies curriculum will satisfy the New York Learning Standards based equivalency requirements as determined by NYSED Guidance. The NYSED Guidance states: “In nonpublic schools, the unit of study requirements may be met, or their equivalents may be met, by the incorporation of the State learning standards of such subjects into the syllabi for other courses. Such integration must be documented in writing and kept on file at the school.” How this Guidance will be applied remains to be clarified.

Non-academic subjects: Further discussion is warranted to determine the specifics of non-academic subjects like Career Development and Occupational Studies and physical education, among others.