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Williamsburg, NY - Tiferes Bnos Students Achieve Academic Success Despite the Odds

Published on: October 26, 2012 09:59 AM
Last updated on: October 26, 2012 01:48 PM
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Principal Miriam Amsel of Tiferes Bnos leads regular professional development sessions with her teachers. Photo: Sarah Garland for Hechinger Report./ courtesy to vinnews.com"Principal Miriam Amsel of Tiferes Bnos leads regular professional development sessions with her teachers. Photo: Sarah Garland for Hechinger Report./ courtesy to vinnews.com"

Williamsburg, NY - Tiferes Bnos, the Charedi all-girls school situated between the Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy sections in Brooklyn, was recently profiled by WNYC.org (http://bit.ly/VrS45r), and is being touted as a model for other schools, including public schools, to follow.

That the students at Tiferes Bnos perform exceptionally well on state standardized tests despite seemingly insurmountable odds is remarkable. The school is similar to many elementary schools in the Hasidic community. The majority of the schools’ students and the teachers live in poverty; they speak Yiddish as their primary language; and less than half of the school week is dedicated to learning secular subjects like math, reading, science and social studies. The teachers are typically only a few years older than their students; they have no formal education and they earn just $6,000 a year.

Listen to an audio version of WNYC this story:

Yet, in the 2008-2009 academic year, the fourth-grade class took the New York State standardized exams for the first time and earned an 87% proficiency score in English and a 97% proficiency score in math.

The teachers say the secret to both their and their students’ success lies with their principal, Miriam Amsel. Amsel, a mother of six who never completed college, has managed to draw out academic excellence from both her students and teachers.

Amsel, who refers to herself as “the chief learner,” attributes her students’ achievement to the intense on-the-job training she provides for her teachers which starts a full six months before they even begin teaching. “We’re here to educate teachers,” she said. “What’s really powerful is they feel like they’re the experts.”

Classroom at Tiferes Bnos. Photo: Sarah Garland for Hechinger Report./ courtesy to vinnews.com"Classroom at Tiferes Bnos. Photo: Sarah Garland for Hechinger Report./ courtesy to vinnews.com"

There is a national movement to increase student achievement by retraining teachers, and Tiferes Bnos has successfully implemented many of the new strategies developed to best train teachers. Anita Murphy, a former associate commissioner with the New York State Department of Education, said she was very impressed when she visited the school last year. “She’s very planned about how she delivers instruction to her teachers,” Murphy said about Amsel. “It’s not nonsense professional development.”

The professional development Amsel offers mainly consists of a monthly evaluation meeting, where teachers sit in a circle and share their struggles and solicit advice from one another. The more experienced teachers offer to conduct workshops on issues of concern to newer, younger educators, such as how to better manage their classrooms. Amsel also recommends books on selected topics. “They don’t feel forced to grow, but they would feel out of place if they didn’t,” she said.

The school also uses federal monies given to private schools that enroll low-income students to enhance their professional development. Australian United States Services in Education, the largest professional development provider in New York City, periodically comes to the school to train teachers in math.

 Tiferes Bnos teachers Photo: Sarah Garland for Hechinger Report./ courtesy to vinnews.com Tiferes Bnos teachers Photo: Sarah Garland for Hechinger Report./ courtesy to vinnews.com

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Read Comments (27)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Oct 26, 2012 at 10:03 AM villyamsburger Says:

I'm happy to hear such nice stuff about our community schools. Keep it up!!!

2

 Oct 26, 2012 at 10:27 AM DB_from_LI Says:

This article really scares me. I've been in education since 1990 in both mainstream Yeshivas and "Modern Orthodox" schools. Without requiring a "gifted student" application I don't see how ESL students (who's first language isn't English as is such with Yiddish speaking schools) can have {"the fourth-grade class took the New York State standardized exams for the first time and earned an 87% proficiency score in English and a 97% proficiency score in math"} I've administered these tests and superior students, who've gone on to much higher education (both in secular studies & S'micha programs), I don't think scored in those percentiles (I've never polled it but it is my estimation). At the school I currently work at the honors class doesn't score this well as a whole. I'm frightened this will open a pandora's box for private schools......

3

 Oct 26, 2012 at 10:24 AM concerned_Jew Says:

Wonderful! Let use the model for other schools and this make a great case for school choice!

4

 Oct 26, 2012 at 10:36 AM Materetsky Says:

Reply to #2  
DB_from_LI Says:

This article really scares me. I've been in education since 1990 in both mainstream Yeshivas and "Modern Orthodox" schools. Without requiring a "gifted student" application I don't see how ESL students (who's first language isn't English as is such with Yiddish speaking schools) can have {"the fourth-grade class took the New York State standardized exams for the first time and earned an 87% proficiency score in English and a 97% proficiency score in math"} I've administered these tests and superior students, who've gone on to much higher education (both in secular studies & S'micha programs), I don't think scored in those percentiles (I've never polled it but it is my estimation). At the school I currently work at the honors class doesn't score this well as a whole. I'm frightened this will open a pandora's box for private schools......

that is the complete opposite of dan l kaf zchus.

maybe this is a better school than the ones you have dealt with. maybe the kids are brighter.

5

 Oct 26, 2012 at 10:50 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #2  
DB_from_LI Says:

This article really scares me. I've been in education since 1990 in both mainstream Yeshivas and "Modern Orthodox" schools. Without requiring a "gifted student" application I don't see how ESL students (who's first language isn't English as is such with Yiddish speaking schools) can have {"the fourth-grade class took the New York State standardized exams for the first time and earned an 87% proficiency score in English and a 97% proficiency score in math"} I've administered these tests and superior students, who've gone on to much higher education (both in secular studies & S'micha programs), I don't think scored in those percentiles (I've never polled it but it is my estimation). At the school I currently work at the honors class doesn't score this well as a whole. I'm frightened this will open a pandora's box for private schools......

Similar high scores where true in other cheride girlsschools in the state of NY, If you're scared recite the shema!

6

 Oct 26, 2012 at 11:02 AM Brilliant Says:

On the 4th grade Terra Novas, my daughter scored grades 11+ and 12+ (I forgot which is reading and which is math.) Granted, I am not chassidish, and we speak English and read a lot in our house.
Talk to chassidish women- they are very intelligent. I believe these numbers.
As a community, we believe in education, hard work, responsibility, accountability, collaboration- all the important factors for success that are so glaringly missing in mainstream PS culture and so intuitive in our lives.

7

 Oct 26, 2012 at 11:03 AM Queenbee Says:

Reply to #2  
DB_from_LI Says:

This article really scares me. I've been in education since 1990 in both mainstream Yeshivas and "Modern Orthodox" schools. Without requiring a "gifted student" application I don't see how ESL students (who's first language isn't English as is such with Yiddish speaking schools) can have {"the fourth-grade class took the New York State standardized exams for the first time and earned an 87% proficiency score in English and a 97% proficiency score in math"} I've administered these tests and superior students, who've gone on to much higher education (both in secular studies & S'micha programs), I don't think scored in those percentiles (I've never polled it but it is my estimation). At the school I currently work at the honors class doesn't score this well as a whole. I'm frightened this will open a pandora's box for private schools......

They have a very different way of learning than the standard schools across the board. It's more like a hands-on-learning program with the students.

8

 Oct 26, 2012 at 11:23 AM DB_from_LI Says:

Reply to #4  
Materetsky Says:

that is the complete opposite of dan l kaf zchus.

maybe this is a better school than the ones you have dealt with. maybe the kids are brighter.

I'm not judging I'm truly impressed. I did say that if they accpept "brighter" students then it makes sense. I'm an academic and a fact based numbers person. That's my personality. If something based on my knowledge doesn't make sense I question it. Maybe with my limited understanding of what she is doing, I can't see how X - Y = Z. To educate at a higher education level without formal education, and accross the board score well, doesn't add up. I would love to learn her methods. I would implement them in my school. My point is that now that it's out there they've opened themselves to scrutiny from all areas. That can't be a good thing.

9

 Oct 26, 2012 at 11:50 AM Anonymous Says:

Maybe Charedi children have responsibility in the home and are not playing video games on the computer 6 to 10 hours a day. They don't go and hang around fast food restaurants. Their school day is long and both the home and the school require respect for parents and teachers. Also they dress properly for school and not like hoodlums. Dressing the part is part of doing the part. The parents back the school for 2 reason, 1. we are require to respect our teachers and 2. we pay for our education and we want our children to get something out of it. Time is not
to be wasted in a Jewish life

10

 Oct 26, 2012 at 12:15 PM Aryeh Says:

Better homes, for teachers and students, is the reason they can succeed! Money, education and culture are not excuses anymore.

11

 Oct 26, 2012 at 01:25 PM Anonymous Says:

I hope these are legitimate test results and there is no hanky panky going on. If so, this should be a model of why "one size fits all" does not work in education and that teachers need flexibility to adopt to the needs and circumstances of their kids.

12

 Oct 26, 2012 at 01:13 PM Halaivy Says:

Let's take into account that these students study 1/2 day Jewish studies and yiddish is their first languish
If those commenting on VIN would follow the whole culture of the Chasidic community they would see the beauty of it and start understanding the rest of their ways of life.

13

 Oct 26, 2012 at 02:10 PM Anonymous Says:

I wanna see what Chassidishe BOYS the same age would score? That should be interesting.

14

 Oct 26, 2012 at 02:24 PM Huh? Says:

I believe that a big part of the success of frum schools is absence of student violence.
The public schools teachers spend to much time breaking up fights to teach anything.

15

 Oct 26, 2012 at 02:31 PM A-P-C Says:

I agree with the earlier comments questioning these results. I'd like to see them replicated in tests proctored by neutral observers. The math scores are one thing, but the English scores are hard to believe.

16

 Oct 26, 2012 at 02:38 PM Anonymous Says:

As a fellow principal in a modern Orthodox school, I have heard Mrs, Miriam Amsel's presentations several times. She has given workshops in many of our schools and at the Board of Jewish Education to educators that cross the entire spectrum of Jewish schools.
She is self-taught and a thorough professional. She sets realistic goals for her students and staff and she is very successful in achieving them. Furthermore, she welcomes visitors to her school and is extremely generous in sharing her ideas and techniques. Kol Hakovod.

17

 Oct 26, 2012 at 02:55 PM proud bubby Says:

These children don't have the distractions of tv, movies, hangouts at fast food joints, etc., which the secular students do. They focus on their studies and it's nice to see the results being acknowledged.

18

 Oct 26, 2012 at 02:57 PM Shtarker Says:

Unfortunately, all this wonderful education will probably go to waste: Most if not all of these girls will get a shidduch with a guy who knows nothing about earning a living and cares less, and their family will continue to live in poverty.

19

 Oct 26, 2012 at 04:36 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #18  
Shtarker Says:

Unfortunately, all this wonderful education will probably go to waste: Most if not all of these girls will get a shidduch with a guy who knows nothing about earning a living and cares less, and their family will continue to live in poverty.

Why the negativity? I think Mrs. Amstel probably believes that she could change the cycle of poverty through education, one student at a time. She certainly can't change the entire community. Hatzlochah!
The bigger issue is how she will manage to continue he strides in education while paying the teachers so little.

20

 Oct 26, 2012 at 05:13 PM blahblah Says:

I've taught across the spectrum from public school to chasidishe. Although the academic level at the chasidishe schools leaves a bit to be desired, they do not have the discipline problems that other schools seem to have. They respect their teachers, and are motivated and hard-working, and don't go home to spend hours watching TV or piddling around Facebook.

21

 Oct 27, 2012 at 03:58 PM Anonymous Says:

One consequence, which is repeated here, is no TV, no fast food restaurants, no hanging around,leads to students reading. Today there are many good Jewish magazines, journals and books and when you go into Jewish home you see the kids READING, READING AND MORE READING. This expands the mind. Many frum men who learn in kollel read secular books on whatever in the bathroom to expend their minds also. My father did not know how to use a calculator never mind a computer but he was a sucessful businessman who build a portfolio of apartments.
My grandmother made money on the stock market without any education. If we have the desire to succeed we will create the way

22

 Oct 27, 2012 at 04:21 PM GEULA Says:

I'm a good friend of Miriam Amsel and have worked on quite a few projects with her in the past. She has a fantastic head/brain. She envisions a level and demands it of herself and others and she achieves it. She stands by who she is and where she came from despite her thirst for knowledge and interaction with others not from where she comes from/her crowd. She's by far one of the most capable people that I've seen in a while to hold a position like this. She will not sleep until it's all perfect and fully accomplished. I havent spoken to her in a while now but I would never have expected anything less from her. anything she touches excels. I believe the scholastic achievement in this school is totally honest and deserved. She is the straightest most honest person and wouldn't need to hide or forge anything cus she can get there on her own. Kol Hakavod.

23

 Oct 27, 2012 at 08:48 PM RobertS Says:

Just goes to show that advanced degrees, lavish spending, and teachers unions are not at all needed to educate children well. But the article doesn't touch on an important factor: the students of the school in question are diligent, hard-working, obedient, and respectful of authority because they are raised by their family, community, and tradition to be so. They are also required by their parents to avoid outside distractions such as TV, fashion, organized sports, etc. and their peers do the same, their friends have the same experience, so peer pressure is only a positive influence. Children who go to public school are not raised that way; their parents make little effort for their children, not only with respect to schooling, but also in home life including discipline and love. The problem with American public schools is not the schools, but the parents of the students.

24

 Oct 28, 2012 at 01:30 AM Anonymous Says:

Very impressive! Our children want to learn, and are encouraged not to waste time and at the end of the day IT SHOWS ! Mrs. Amsel is a master educator. We need many more like her. Kol Hakovod

25

 Oct 29, 2012 at 10:22 AM anonim Says:

its the administrater's hard work, kol hakovod!

26

 Oct 29, 2012 at 10:02 AM anonim Says:

its for sure the hard work of the administrator rabbi yoel holtsman !!keep it up

27

 Oct 29, 2012 at 10:56 AM Tzvike Says:

And not just in Williamsburg... According to the most recent (June 2011) high school final exam results on the teaching of the English and French languages (first and second languages), the Skver all-girls school, which teaches in French and is registered as a French-language school, was ranked first by the Quebec provincial educational department out of the 120 French private schools and second out of all 154 schools. Sadly, not a single mainstream press organization will report this.

Their mame loshen is Yiddish and they scored first in French, outranking all of Quebec's most prestigious private French schools which pre-select their students. I think their success was not "in spite" of their Yiddish but "because" of this. A big Mazel Tov to these young women, to their families and especially to their teachers.

28

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