Brooklyn Hebrew Charter School's F Grade Doesn't Reflect Movement, Leaders Say

Single Class's Setback Blamed for Poor Mark

By Julie Wiener

Published November 19, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

(JTA) — On a bright autumn morning, Hebrew songs and phrases fill the sun-drenched, freshly painted blue and white classrooms of New York’s Harlem Hebrew Language Academy Charter School.

A group of kindergartners, representing such an even mix of black and white children that they resemble a 1980s Benetton ad, clasp each other by the waist and dance in a “rakevet,” or train, stopping every few moments to add a new child who, as the teachers explain in Hebrew, is sitting nicely on his or her “tussik.”

In another room of the new institution, located in a former Catholic school on a gentrifying block in Harlem, first-graders place red and yellow chips on Bingo cards, each space designating a colored item of clothing to be identified in Hebrew. Children who lapse into English receive a gentle reproof from the teacher saying in Hebrew, “I hear English. Oy va voy!”

But while students at Harlem Hebrew were basking in the good vibes, its sister school, the 4-year-old Hebrew Language Charter School in Brooklyn, was dealing with the F it received a day earlier in the New York Department of Education’s annual grading of city schools.

Despite the Brooklyn school being named a “vanguard” school by the Hebrew Charter School Center, the national network with which both New York schools affiliate, leaders of the center say the poor showing doesn’t reflect on the quality of the Brooklyn school or on Hebrew charter schools generally.

“It’s in no way a setback for the movement,” said Rabbi David Gedzelman, a board member of both the Harlem school and the Hebrew Charter School Center and the executive vice president of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, one of the center’s primary funders.

The F grade is an unusually poor showing for a Hebrew charter school, the bulk of which have done well on state evaluations. Three of the four schools in the Ben Gamla network in Florida earned A’s in 2013 from the state ranking system, which is based on test performance and other factors. The fourth got a C.

The only other center school besides Brooklyn to be tested so far — the Hatikvah International Charter School in East Brunswick, N.J. — ranked in the 99th percentile of a statewide evaluation of academic achievement.

Launched in 2009, the Brooklyn academy was the first school founded with financial and technical assistance from the center. By some measures, the Hebrew Language Academy has been a success. Its profile on InsideSchools.org, an online guide to New York public schools, is filled with enthusiastic parent testimonials. In recent years, the school has received more applications than it has openings.

Still, the academy was one of only 23 elementary schools in the city to receive an overall grade of F for 2012-13. The annual assessment is based largely on student progress in statewide math and English tests.

As 2012-13 was only the second year that its students took the tests, much of the academy’s overall grade was determined by the performance of its first cohort: 75 students who were fourth-graders last year.

These students — some entered as first-graders in its opening year and others matriculated there as late as the second or third grade — have a different demographic profile than the rest of the school and the schools with which the academy was compared, charter school center officials say.

Overall, the Hebrew Language Academy is 48.6 percent black/Hispanic. Its fourth-grade class is 62 percent black/Hispanic. Harlem Hebrew is approximately 40 percent white, 40 percent black and 20 percent Latino.

Gedzelman said the Brooklyn school is improving, and he noted that its third-graders performed considerably better on average in 2012-13 than the fourth-graders.

Over the years, the academy has offered more academic intervention and support for low-performing students. It is also adding a summer program.

The other schools in the charter school network — including Harlem Hebrew and two others that opened this fall in San Diego and Washington, D.C. — have benefited from lessons learned by the Hebrew Language Academy over the years, Gedzelman said.

For example, Harlem Hebrew launched this year with a reading specialist and English-as-a-second-language specialist on staff, something the Brooklyn academy did not add until later.

Another center-affiliated school is slated to open this year in Los Angeles. The group also is in discussions with planning groups in Philadelphia and Chicago, and is considering opening additional schools in New York City.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.