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Tiferes Bnos, a Chasidic Girls School, is Turning Heads with its Academic Success

WNYC ran a three part series on Professional Development. One segment of the series featured a profile on an all girls, chasidic school in Williamsburg NY with incredible standardized test scores.

According to the radio segment, the success of the school is mostly a result of their teacher training. The school hires young women who are 18 or 19 years old and trains them to teach with excellence. The teachers make $6000 a year and have no formal educational training.

The mastermind behind this is a chasidic woman named Miriam Amsel. She personally trains the teachers and helps them succeed with regular development meetings. During the sessions she helps the teachers grow in their skills and techniques. It is key that the teachers buy into her wisdom and they hang onto her every word. She offers this amazing quote during the radio segment:

Success is never the result of having all the answers. It is the result of being open for all the questions.”

That is a great lesson. In fact the story on the WNYC website “Questions Lead Way in One School’s Teacher Training”. I am sure she means it as well. But in the ultra-orthodox community this does not seem to be the norm. Some questions are allowed. Other questions are decidedly out of bounds.

I am amazed at the success of this school and I think anyone would be equally impressed with the scores of these girls, especially in English which is their second language.

The article on WNYC’s site highlights two more factors in the school’s success:

Unlike at the city’s public schools, college and career readiness are not the focus at Tiferes Bnos because Hasidic society strongly discourages its members from attending college. Nevertheless, Amsel and her teachers say that for their girls, a good education is important so they can be productive and thoughtful members of the community.

Many elements of success at the private school would not be easy to replicate in a public school: The students, as members of the insular Hasidic community, are mostly sheltered from the distractions, like television and video games, and problems, like single-parent homes, that many low-income students in public schools face. Girls as a group tend to do better academically than boys. And the songs Tiferes Bnos teachers sing to build cohesiveness and raise morale are not likely to catch on in the city’s public schools.

I agree that education is important. But I also think education should not stop when one graduates high school. I also wonder what the science education is like. I also wonder what these young women are doing with their education if they are not continuing on to higher education.

I also agree that distractions are just that, distractions. But I am not convinced that taking away all distractions is good for children in the long run. It may produce better test scores. But does it produce better people? I don’t know.

There is some skepticism over these scores. As a skeptical person, I am very curious how these tests are administered in this school. I am not accusing them of cheating or fixing the scores. But I would be much more confident if the scores could be independently verified. If only just to ease my conscience.

Another thing that bothers me a little bit about the article is its portrayal of the school as catering to low-income families. While it is true that the families in the school are low-income, they are not subject to the same sort of conditions and circumstances as the children of other low-income families and areas. Family life is revered. There is a community safety net. Further, a lot of the families in the community are low-income by choice and they live a more than half decent lifestyle. Parents chip in and the government subsidies are leveraged to the maximum. Other low-income schools and communities do not enjoy such luxuries so perhaps the metric should not be income, rather it should be family stability, crime rates, and comfort of living.

I also fear that this incredible accomplishment will be viewed as vindication for all charedi schools. Clearly, education is not that great in most ultra-orthodox schools. This school is an exception that proves the rule. Just because they can do it somehow does not mean that all schools are capable of pulling off this kind of success, especially with young teachers with no professional degrees. It speaks to the incredible talents of Mrs. Amsel, but there is a reason she is singled out as an exceptions; she is exceptional.

In all, the school is making a great Kiddush Hashem and I am very happy to learn of the great test scores in this school. Kein yirbu.

Link: WNYC and VIN


12 Comments
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  • MarkSoFla

    I also wonder what these young women are doing with their education if they are not continuing on to higher education.

    Sometimes people just get an education … to be educated. In essence, the whole reason Liberal Arts exists is based on that premise.

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      True. But its hardly a value espoused in the chasidic community.

      • MarkSoFla

        That’s generally true. But if 3% of the Chassidic community does have it as a value, now they have a school available for their girls.

        And it’s a good start at least …

    • http://twitter.com/randomGrue Rand

      Presumably, they aren’t doing much with it at all.

      Aren’t schools legally required to provide a certain level of education in New York? If so, I don’t see why they wouldn’t try to do it well (provided they aren’t afraid that it will cause students to go off the derekh to Stern College).

      In fact, as I understand it, it’s pretty common for Hareidi girls schools to have strong secular studies curricula. It’s not “Bittul Toyrah” in the same way it would be for men.

  • http://2nd-son.blogspot.com/ G*3

    > The teachers make $6000 a year

    If each teacher works half a day, that’s a little over $9/hour, which is lousy – teaching is hard work, even if they “have no formal educational training.” If they’re working the full day, it’s about $4.5/hour, which is well below minimum wage.

    > I am not convinced that taking away all distractions is good for children in the long run.

    It’s not like chassidishe kids don’t have toys or play games. They just don’t have TVs.

    > As a skeptical person, I am very curious how these tests are administered in this school.

    I was wondering that too. If the scores are legitimate, then this is an amazing school. But there have been many cases of teachers and administrators providing students with test answers when there was motivation for them to do so.

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      > I assume they have a dual curriculum. The English / Math teachers are different than the Judaic Studies. So they probably teach half days. Also, it is unlikely they would publicize breaking the law…

      > Recreation is eschewed in general.

      > Like I said, we shall see…

  • http://twitter.com/randomGrue Rand

    Reminds me of this:

    http://oldfraser.lexi.net/publications/studies/education/report_card/2001/ont/section_06.html

    (Look towards the bottom of the schools tied for #1 in Ontario.)

    Now, this wasn’t a particularly in depth ranking system (though it did get better and I think we held our spot for a few years) and it’s not the same situation, but it reminds me how sometimes small schools can do well simply based on the group of students they happen to have at the time. (Fact is, we had spectacular average SAT scores, if only because the few students to take the SAT happened to be really bright and pretty dedicated.)

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      Indeed. Small sample size could be a huge factor here.

  • David Braun

    “There is some skepticism over these scores. As a skeptical person, I am very curious how these tests are administered in this school. I am not accusing them of cheating or fixing the scores. But I would be much more confident if the scores could be independently verified. If only just to ease my conscience.”

    Would you have that same reaction of the school in question was RAMAZ? Or do you apply such feelings exclusively to certain classes of Jews that are out of your favor.

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      Why do you assume that these Jews are out of my favor? The reason for skepticism is that these scores are abnormally high for a school with students from chasidic homes. It’s not the only chasidic school, yet it is the only chasidic school with abnormally high scores. That is a sufficient reason for skepticism.

  • Isaac Hasofer

    Clearly Fink has an issue with this story…it is evident in the undertone of his words…undisputable. It’s a typical matter however, for young Rabbi’s of the “openminded” world to take issue with the positives of the Chassidic world.

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      If it is so evident that I have an issue, why don’t you explain to us how you know this? Sheesh.