Global, Identity, Politics, Religion

The Price of Jew$chool

Before you panic, rest assured: we’re not about to start charging you when you read more than 20 posts per month.  No, we’re talking about the ever-skyrocketing expense of sending children to Jewish day school in the U.S.
With $7,000 you might be able to fly back and forth to Israel six times, but for the same price you could stay put in Overland Park KS and learn at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy for one year.  One thousand dollars more will buy you—show them what they’ve won—one year of 1-8th grade education at the Cincinnati Hebrew Day School. If you want to send your child to the Solomon Schechter of Atlanta, be prepared to shell out upwards of $17,000 per year starting with first grade.  $26,650 might be a fine price for a Toyota RAV4 Sport, but did you know that for the same price, you can ‘kaneh likha rav’—or maybe even four—and enroll for one year of high school at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, PA? $29, 955 would be a steal for a small, foreclosed apartment in a depressed real estate market, but it could also buy you one year’s education at Milken community high school in LA.  These numbers don’t even include the usual “give and get” $1,000+ minimums typically imposed upon day school families on a yearly basis.

Ivana Trump: a convert to Judaism, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the woman who sat three rows in front of my mother, sisters, and I during the high holiday services of my youth. Just throw a giant hat on her, hand her an Artscroll and presto
Ivanka Trump: a convert to Judaism, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the woman who sat three rows in front of my mother, sisters, and I during the high holiday services of my youth. Just throw a giant hat on her, hand her an Artscroll and presto
Some day schools—such as the Ramaz School of NY and the Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago, IL— do not openly disclose their tuition fees, and perhaps for good reason. Unless you are Ivanka Trump, who wouldn’t want to faint upon seeing these staggering numbers?  Especially given today’s economy, how can anyone but the super-rich possibly afford to shell out $20,000 dollars annually to send a child (or, more likely, multiple children) to Jewish day school…for 15 years?
As a day school alum (16 years, but who’s counting) whose entire college tuition (yes, all four years combined, at a private institution which furnished me with an excellent post-secondary education) still cost less than one year of Jewish high school, the irony of this situation is not lost on me. (For purposes of full disclosure: I benefited from a faculty discount for my university tuition.)
Haters in the Cheder
The Jewish Day School tuition crisis has only worsened over the course of the last decade, as aptly demonstrated by the Yeshiva Tuition Talk blog. Check out this meticulously well-researched case study on the surging tuition fees of two orthodox yeshivot in the U.S.

A recent Huffington post article, also lamenting the current tuition crisis among orthodox Jewish day school, concurs: there is no end in sight.  One emerging ‘alternative’ mentioned in the article is the new wave of Hebrew Charter schools opening across the U.S. Hebrew language charter schools, such as the recently-opened Hebrew Language Academy Charter school in Brooklyn, Hatikvah Charter school in NJ, the Shalom Academy also in NJ, slated to open in fall of 2011, and the Ben Gamla Charter school in Hollywood, FL, which offer one possible compromise, by offering Hebrew language instruction without the formal religious studies curriculum which serves as the backbone of traditional day school education….all for free.  But some, such as Yossi Prager, North American director of the Avi Chai Foundation and board member of Bergen County Jewish Day School, argue that the new Hebrew language charter schools phenomenon poses a serious threat to Jewish day schools, by whisking away students who would otherwise attend the day schools (and bring the steep but much-needed tuition with them).   Others, especially in the orthodox community, argue that such charter schools, without the ritual, theological, and life cycle components which are the hallmarks of Jewish day school education, will not properly educate and socialise Jewish students seeking a “Jewish” education.  Furthermore, as public schools, these schools are technically open to any student, regardless of ethnic and/or religious background; many of these schools accept students via a lottery system.
I Went to Day School And All I Got Was This Siddur
I Went to Day School And All I Got Was This Siddur
On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who are concerned that these new charter schools exploit U.S. charter school system and use tax dollars to fund what really ought to be a private religious education.  For example, in the case of the Florida Hebrew language charter school, which is headed by an orthodox rabbi and occasionally used religiously-oriented content in teaching Hebrew, there was concern early on as to whether this school—ostensibly a public school—abided by the division between church and state.
For others, the solution is internal to the day school, whether through financial aid or scholarship. But as Kim Hirsch points out, such arrangements may help families in the lowest income brackets, while leaving the ‘middle tier,’ which would not qualify such financial assistance, in a precarious position. While these families can technically afford the tuition, day school education will necessarily sap away money that would be otherwise set aside for paying off mortgages, for college tuition, for medical expenses and for other unexpected emergencies.
Especially among ‘middle tier’ Orthodox families who refuse to send their children to American public school, such extremes as moving to Israel has become a trend—for the express purpose of sending their children to affordable Jewish day school. Despite the formidable overall cost of living in Israel, moving to Israel and/or commuting back and forth from Israel to a job in the U.S. ironically proves to more ‘fiscally practical’ than continuing to live in the U.S., when the cost of a Jewish education is figured into the equation.
But the Jewish day school situation in the U.S. might change. The coming years could witness a transformation of religious private school education in the U.S. Just a week ago, in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 (with a conservative majority) in favour of a “school choice” program in Arizona, which grants people $500 tax credit for donations to private religious schools. Here again, the net effect is public funding of religious schools—and even more  than in the aforementioned case of the charter schools. While one possible upshot of this ruling could be more donations to Jewish day school, the violation of the separation between church and state  significantly outweighs any possible gain, especially in our current moment of burgeoning right wing extremism in the U.S. In her first dissent, Justice Kagan proffers the deeply unsettling hypothetical (but compelling) example of government-subsidised crucifixes, explaining that the difference between tax credit and government stipends is negligible.
Jewish Day School: Live it, Love it, Make it a Lifestyle Choice
We have yet to deal with the actual purpose and goals of day school.  Despite the adverse reaction that the exorbitant costs of day school education may deservedly elicit from a sober-minded, fiscally responsible adult, there is a reason—if not several reasons—people have been forking over the Benjamins for day school education in the U.S. since the 1960s.   Parents choose to send their offspring to  Jewish day school in the hope that their children will thus be situated in an educational setting that  is committed to their absorbing a critical mass of Jewish knowledge, and to planting these children in a Jewish environment—a Jewish culture—at a critical age and, ideally, exposing them to the joy of a vibrant Jewish community. Whether all Jewish day schools deliver on this end is an entirely other issue, but this is certainly the objective.
Only in full-immersion situations, where a child’s social reality and daily schedule is saturated by Jewishness—such as is very much the case in Jewish day school—can a child begin to understand what an active Jewish life may entail. This is certainly not to say that a public school student cannot lead an authentically ‘active’ Jewish life; rather, it is simply to acknowledge that such an arrangement poses additional obstacles, as actisiyumve expressions of Judaism are, by necessity,  relegated to extracurricular status. For adults active in congregational/communal life, the challenge is less acute, but for children, whose friendships and identity formation are so intimately wrapped up in their school experience,  environment is key in identity formation.  Sunday schools or other forms of supplemental religious education has proven to itself to be largely ineffective,  as pointed out in Mindy Schiller’s excellent article, “What’s Wrong with Hebrew School?,” which appeared in the World Jewish Digest in October 2007. The article describes denominational attempts to correct its past failures on the level of curriculum, but the challenge of engaging youths in this particular form remains daunting, to say the least.
There are other productive outlets for children’s’ Jewish identity expression, such as Jewish youth groups and summer camps. As sociologist Steven M. Cohen’s recent study on the long-term impact of Jewish overnight camp demonstrates, attendance at these camps improves the likelihood of later Jewish involvement in nearly all facets of possible commitment. But even a hopeful reading of these numbers still leaves something to be desired in terms of overall impact and projected commitment to Jewish identity, knowledge, and involvement.

How can we make away with this people?…Go about and observe their schools and academies. So long as the clear voices of children ring forth from them, you will not be able to touch a hair of their head. For thus have the Jews been promised by the father of their people, ‘The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.’ While the voice of Jacob resounds in the schools and academies, the hands of Esau have no power over him. (Genesis Rabbah 65:20)

In short, the ‘product,’ to put this in the crassest marketing terms, which Jewish Day School is ‘selling’ is equal parts medium and message.  This is what I mean when I speak of ‘full immersion’ models: Jewish day school at its best learningshould represent the complete synthesis between Jewish ethics/philosophy and action. While the Orthodox in the North America remain something of a ‘captive audience’ for day school by virtue of their lifestyle and values and their fear of the deleterious “outside” influence of secular culture, at this time of economic crisis, the looming and fatefully critical question for many of us remains:  how can Jewish day school be pitched to non-orthodox families? How might we create a revolution in Jewish education that could parallel the independent minyan phenomenon by finding ways to break from the model of institutional Judaism, or at least to supplement it with vibrant, less expensive, engaging alternatives that will speak to the social reality of today’s Jewish youth and keep them involved and excited about their active involvement. Whatever this vision may entail, empowerment seems to be the operative word.  This challenge is clearly one of extreme existential significance to the liberal Jewish community as we look to the future.

44 thoughts on “The Price of Jew$chool

  1. I want to say something good about Heschel school in Manhattan. It’s great. And someone I love and really needed it got tons of financial aid to go there. If ever I come in to some money, I’ll be sending some of to Heschel.

  2. There’s another issue here too. When we’re talking about affordability of day school, we’re talking about a system that educates a small fraction of Jewish children. Many day schools give children excellent Jewish educations, but when we’re talking about prices rising, it’s a discussion of that fraction of children shrinking more. We’re barely addressing the tens of thousands of children who aren’t in day schools and might not even go to them if they were slightly more affordable. It would cost billions of dollars to shift the day school attendance numbers any significant amount.
    While I like that Hebrew Charter schools are trying something new, they have a limited reach due to only being possible in areas with large Jewish populations and healthy charter school systems.
    I strongly disagree that forms of supplemental education have been proven ineffective. You mention a single “excellent” article from World Jewish Digest, but I can’t find it online and online references to it describe it with words that are quite different from “excellent.” Many problems in modern supplemental education stem from a systematic lack of support for innovation in supplemental education. Some Kesher programs have received Covenant grants. Anyone know other examples of big funders to innovative supplemental education? Does any Jewish education school have major staffing/research/curricular allocations towards supplemental education models?
    I don’t deny that there is a history of supplemental models not meeting current needs, but much of that was because they were designed to meet different needs and few have invested in rethinking the design.
    I also think this is not an example of doing something apart from institutional Judaism. I think this is a great case where people outside of institutional Judaism can leverage institutional resources to build great programs that meet community-wide needs.

  3. What is contributing to such high costs of tuition? Is it a matter of building more capacity?
    As for government subsidies, in whatever form they come, I’m all for it. As long as schools complete state and federal requirements, I think they should be free to offer faith-education through an extended curriculum. It doesn’t make sense that the community will pay upwards of $15k/student if they attend a public school, but $0 if they choose a faith-based school, which in any case must comply with state and federal standards. Our tax money is better spent on achieving an educated public, not paying homage to the institution of public education.
    The key is informed parental consent and performance-based oversight, which, not incidentally, is how all schools should be run.

  4. @Victor, A private school that takes government money in exchange for complying with state and federal standards and oversight is no longer a private school. If governments have the right to send money to religious schools that meet their predefined criteria, what prevents them from excluding Jewish schools based on their criteria? For that matter, what prevents them from removing all secular public schools and making sure only Christian options meet their criteria? I’m sure the recent Arizona ruling will benefit some Jewish communities, but allowing state and federal governments to create tax credits for anything they want with no religious exclusions is going to have some really bad results in the long-run.

  5. I’m a little confused. Raysh asks “how can Jewish day school be pitched to non-orthodox families?” as if there aren’t many thriving non-orthodox Jewish day schools already in existence.
    I’m a graduate of the Rashi School, a Reform Jewish Day School in Massachusetts. There are seventeen other members of the Progressive Association of Reform Jewish Day Schools. ( There are nearly 50 Solomon Schechter Day Schools, associated with the Conservative movement.
    It seems silly to ask how Jewish day schools can be pitched to the non-orthodox as if this hasn’t already been happening for decades.

  6. So how do the impovrished of Kiryas Joel and New Square manage things?
    Glorified home schooling. And why do you think they remain impoverished?

  7. Dan, aren’t charter schools privately (i.e. independently) run, but with government funding and regulations? I’m not an expert, but I think this is the case.
    It seems to me that most of the problems you describe could be preempted by putting in place fair and reasonable guidelines, such as limiting government oversight over secular education. This task isn’t beyond the capabilities of professional bureaucrats.

  8. I’d like to add that in my experience of teaching in supplemental Jewish education schools, they work about as well as the participants (most importantly the students and their parents) want them to work.

  9. @Victor, Charter schools are given certain amounts of independance, but the restrictions are fully defined by the government. They can pull the “charter” and funding for any reason they deem appropriate. Doing this right isn’t beyond the capabilities of professional bureaucrats, but you’re assuming your definition of “right” is the same as those bureaucrats. If religious restrictions are removed, anything goes.
    @ML, I love that comment and I’ll say that I want them to work well and I’m trying my best to make it so in my community.

  10. Day school tuition increases significantly when moving from a small town to a large metro area – teacher salaries are higher and so is the cost of the physical plant. But day school tuition are still generally the same or less than non-denominational prep schools and the kids graduating from Ramaz etc are getting as good as an education. You can read more about the day school tuition crisis here –

  11. Isn’t there some recent research that finds that Day School attendance is not as strong a predictor of strong adult Jewish identity as Camp, visiting Israel, and Judaism practiced in the home? Anyone have that reference?

  12. One more comment. In Atlanta, our Federation includes our day schools in its portfolio of giving – another way to get around the tax laws, I suppose? One can’t give directly to the schools for a tax credit, but one can give to Federation and get a tax credit?
    I don’t like that the day schools are funded by our Federation because it is such a tiny proportion of families that benefit. Maybe true or not, I assume these families getting reduced tuition, are already better-off families. There is no way our family could afford even 1/3 of the day school tuition, but I’d like Jewish education for my child too.
    Our community has an opportunity to maybe have after-school Jewish education through a private provider. Almost all of us who send our children to Public school, have our kids in “aftercare” from 2:30 – 5:30 — that’s 3 hours a day when our children could be having a Jewish experience. This is a very exciting idea to us. Anyone know of after-school Jewish care such as this?

  13. @Jennie,
    The most recent study that comes to mind is Generation of Change:
    How Leaders in Their Twenties and Thirties Are Reshaping American Jewish Life.
    It’s just about leaders, but Table 7 shows the many predictors in addition to day schools. (Note that 20-24% of the leaders being children of Jewish professionals is probably the biggest predictor since it’s from the smallest original sample size)
    There are several existing models that use aftercare needs for Jewish education. The most established is Kesher, which started in the Boston and now as sights in Newton, MA, NYC, and is working on Chicago. There’s also Edah in Berkeley, CA. I’m working on a similar program in my community (not Atlanta)

  14. The issues with Jewish schools are general. They function with the strategy they have so not a problem, until our kids grow up well.

  15. Jennie,
    If you think a day school would be appropriate for your family — and Atlanta has at least one excellent non-Orthodox school — you should discuss the scholarship situation directly with the schools. Generally speaking, the day school experts I’ve been speaking to lately say there is no problem with money for the bottom third — incomes under perhaps $100,000. It’s the $100k-$300k households with three or more children who are finding it painful.

  16. The bottom third have incomes of $100k or less? Wow…. I wonder how that compares to Jews in general. Is it mostly well off Jews that are interested in Jewish education, or is it expensive Jewish education that drives away less well-off Jews?

  17. I don’t know the Jewish income distribution, but it’s probably not as far from the US distributions as commonly assumed. Around 1/3 of families with 2 parents and children have incomes over $100K. Around 1/5 of white non-hispanic households (no child or marriage filter) have incomes over $100K.
    That 66-80% of the population are considered charity cases for Jewish day schools is a major problem for any discussion about expanding access to day schools. No clue on the solution.

  18. @ Jennie, Camp and Israel travel have been shown to have almost as strong an impact on long-term Jewish identity as day schools, but not more.
    @Jed S-A, day schools need to appeal to more non-Orthodox Jews because those schools’ enrollments have dropped over the last few years. Also, more kids in any of those schools will help cover costs, and potentially keep tuitions level. I won’t presume that they’d decrease, unless a megadonor steps in, per Cleveland and Metrowest NJ.

  19. Well, let’s be honest here, part of the problem is self-created. The evidence is that given the alternative models we currently have (which excludes new models such as after school programs etc that aren’t currently being implemented) day school and summer camp are the best predictors of identity as adults. The reason for that appears clearer when you examine some additional data: 1. one day a week supplemental schools are worse predictors than attending no days at all, and adult identity rests largely on the number and intensity of Jewish peers in one’s intimate friends group.
    In other words, it’s the normalization of experience and the creation of Jewish peer groups, not the quality of the education that makes a difference. There are certainly possible alternative models that wouldn’t necessarily mean day school was the only good identity generator. However, clearly supplementary schools which meet sporadically (by which I mean one, two or even three days a week) probably will never be adequate no matter what programs are run through them because they don’t foster primary friendships and normalized Jewish experience.
    But back to the day school problem: if day schools actually lowered their costs substantially, significantly more students would be likely to enroll- providing more money to support them at these lower tuitions. So that’s their self-generated problem. The other part of course is that the Jewish community has chosen to put what money it has into a lot of nonsense (another holocaust museum anyone? it’s much easier to commemorate dead people than to educate the future apparently)

  20. Jennie: I appreciate that you don’t like Federation giving money to day schools. There are causes that Federation supports that I feel they shouldn’t support (missions over the Green line for instance). Federations do not do this so that people can give to day schools tax free. Anyone can donate money to a day school and get a tax deduction as long as that school is a registered 501c3. The problem is, tuition is not a donation. It is a payment for service, which is not tax deductible. Federation also supports synagogues, but not everyone joins a synagogue. The job of Federation is to support the Jewish community.
    For my part, i also don’t have a problem with a $500 tax deduction for parents who don’t send their children to public schools. Those parents are paying local taxes, some of which goes to support public schools. They don’t use the public schools, which at least in my area, lessens the crowding in our overstuffed public schools. So a $500 rebate per child isn’t a whole heck of a lot. I don’t see that as supporting private schools or religion. It is supporting the taxpayer. Vouchers, IMO, are more of a “direct support” method.

    1. I’ll respond to the main post and the rest of the conversation later (and I have a lot to say), but for now I’ll just clear up one common misunderstanding about US taxes: tax deductions are not the same as tax credits.
      A tax deduction means that your taxable income is reduced by some amount, so that you are paying taxes on a lower income. Donations to (non-political) nonprofit organizations, including Federations and day schools, are tax-deductible. So if you donate $400 to a day school and you are in the 25% marginal tax bracket, you will save $100 in taxes due to this donation. But you’re still out $300, so you’ll only make this donation if you really want to.
      A tax credit means that your tax is reduced by some amount. And the program in Arizona that was recently before the Supreme Court is a tax credit: donations to school tuition organizations (which provide scholarships to private schools), up to a limit of $500, can be subtracted directly from Arizona taxes, not from taxable income. So if you live in Arizona and donate $400 to a tuition organization, you save $400 in state taxes, and this donation literally costs you nothing.
      BTW, the Supreme Court didn’t actually rule that this program was constitutional, because they didn’t reach the First Amendment merits of the case — they ruled that the plaintiffs did not have standing (as taxpayers) to sue over a First Amendment violation, because it involved a tax credit rather than direct government expenditures. (Justice Kagan argued in her dissent that this distinction is nonsensical.)

  21. KRG–
    How do you propose day school tuitions should be lowered? I went to one for grades 1-12, and at the time, it had virtually no extra-curricular activities, few electives, and minimal resources for learning-disabled or academically talented students. That’s changed somewhat since I was there, but I think tuition’s gone up substantially too. So I just don’t see how day schools can lower tuition while also offering students the resources they need.
    Since day schools provide secular educations that families can obtain for free at public schools, I’m not sure the Jewish community should be putting so many resources to that end.
    As far as extra-currics go, however, students attending supplementary school might not have time for them, and shabbat observant students might have access limited further. So maybe they’re mutually exclusive with a solid Jewish education. No easy answers, but I’d like to think better options are out there.

  22. I grew up in public schools, mostly in a particular charter school–I spent 4th-12th grade there!
    I wouldn’t send my hypothetical children to that same school, but I like the idea of a sending my kids to a public school. I want my kids to come into contact with people of a variety of backgrounds. I know Jews who got to college and had never had a close non-Jewish friend before. That’s a frightening thought, to me.
    On the other hand, I’m learning biblical Hebrew damn near on my own right now–I’m 22–because I never had a good chance to learn it before. From that perspective, there’s also something pretty attractive to me about day school.

  23. I attended day school for two years, when we first came to the US, on a Federation subsidy. After that, the bill went up to $10k and my parents just couldn’t afford it at the time. I was quite the secular rebel in day school, and many a Judaica class were held up with my arguing with the Rabbi, and that was in grade 4. On the other hand, a year after I got dumped into the very good public middle school, after I failed to fit in with all the cliques that were formed in kindergarden, I started wearing a kippa and saying shema during lunchtime.
    That’s also about the time I learned how to procrastinate, cheat on tests, forge my dad’s signature and take a punch. My scholastics suffered in public school, but I wonder if I would be an observant or self-defined Jew today were I not to have had that counter-culture experience. Many of my former classmates from dayschool wrote G-d off altogether somewhere between going to high school and graduating from college.

  24. @ML
    ‘Glorified home schooling. And why do you think they remain impovrished?’
    On the former, not so:
    That’s their school building behind them
    (And the latter because they have lots of kids)
    So I ask again: How can impovrished Jews afford private Jewish day schools in NY state, when far richer Jews can’t?

  25. First, Kol HaKavod to Raysh for an excellent post on a difficult problem for our communities.
    Second, KHK to all y’all for an interesting, civil and engaging discussion.
    Third, can we get some Day School leaders in on this post?
    @KRG “if day schools actually lowered their costs substantially, significantly more students would be likely to enroll- providing more money to support them at these lower tuitions. So that’s their self-generated problem. The other part of course is that the Jewish community has chosen to put what money it has into a lot of nonsense (another holocaust museum anyone? it’s much easier to commemorate dead people than to educate the future apparently)
    Two excellent, excellent points.
    I would assume that part of the issue is that most schools are operating on a cash basis and dont have much of an endowment to offset operational costs.
    George Hanus has argued this point for a couple decades now and initiated at 5% campaign for day school endowments (, and makes his arguments here:
    KRG’s second point misses another issue. In Chicago, the Federation sends half its annual campaign overseas. I dont recall the formula offhand, but its nearly $30MM split between JAFI, JDC and other agencies. Doubtless, the needs for these funds are important, but it raises a question. Should our communities be expending infinite energy to send half of its most precious resources to be spent outside the community?
    Again, this isn’t to diminish important needs overseas, but it would seem to me that Federations might be better off in the long run by focusing more of their attention on the needs of the local Jewish communities from whence the funds came.
    One area is clearly the endowments of Day Schools so that tuition is more affordable so as to effectively underwrite enough new student recruitment at a lower price point to significantly offset the difference.
    In these tight financial times, the goal should be to provide the most impactful Jewish education to the most number of children at the most cost effective price point.
    That should be self-evident, shouldn’t it? The communal endowment fund seems a logical idea. Maybe instead of annual give/gets going to operations, it should be invested in endowments for the future.
    Are there other means by which it could be accomplished?

  26. I want to thank everyone who has commented for such a lively and thoughtful discussion. I look forward to responding in more detail soon, but for now, I’m just quickly going to address an important point raised by BZ:
    I didn’t mean to conflate tax credit with tax deductions. My breakdown of the situation should have emphasised that donations to Jewish day school COULD eventually earn tax credit, if programs (such as the Christian one under question) that included Jewish day schools were implemented (as opposed to the tax deductions day school donors now receive). Beyond my litany of ideological objections to the tax credit arrangement decided upon here, I’m still unclear as to what’s in it for the government.

  27. Oh, I didn’t think you were conflating them in the post, I was just responding to some of the comments that seemed to be confusing this.

  28. One more thing–
    Adam, I couldn’t agree with your suggestion more–local intervention is clearly the key.
    I was actually going to mention George’s 5% program, but while I was writing this, I spoke with someone who had worked with him who informed me that the program now is essentially defunct (sadly–this was a really great idea). The only programs I could find which actively aided day schools were the Avi Chai Foundation projects and the PEJE, the former having especially specific visions for what day school ‘ought’ to be (halakhically-committed and Zionist). I’d love to see a more pluralistic, wide-scale effort to support Jewish day school.

  29. Even people paying full tuition are relying on subsidies. The day schools that I know of are heavily subsidized by local federations and that doesn’t include scholarships and reduced tuition arrangements. That doesn’t make them unsustainable, per se, but to say that that some families are not helped (unless said family is also making large additional contributions to the school and/or federation) is just not true.

  30. When talking about how day schools are funded and the total costs, the best study I’ve seen is Talking Dollars and Sense About Jewish Education from the Avi Chai Foundation. It’s from 2001. I just checked two of the profiled Denver schools and their tuitions have doubled since then.
    At the time of that study, Conservative and reform schools covered 88-9% of their expenses with tuition, community schools cover 68% with tuition, and Orthodox schools covered 1/3-2/3 of expenses with tuition. Federations tend to pay about 5% of the day school education costs.
    In 2001, day schools educated 200,000 students for $2billion per year (assuming a $10K cost-per-student). If day schools were to grow to educate a sizable portion of the remaining student population, 100,000 more children, it would cost an additional $1billion/year plus another $1.35 billion in construction costs. I think it’s safe to assume these costs have close to doubled in the last decade.
    Perhaps this is where the Jewish community should be spending money, but it’s worth being very clear what magnitudes of money we are talking about.

  31. Ok, now responding to the main post.
    This post makes clear that, as more and more people of our (my and Raysh’s) generation have children, and those children reach school age, there is going to be a real battle for hearts and minds. The day school partisans have to make the case that day school is inevitable and indispensable (not just the only option for serious Jewish education, but the only possible option for serious Jewish education), and those of us who want to see new models of serious supplementary Jewish education have to make the case that no, it’s not.
    Why is this narrative of inevitability necessary? Why can’t day school compete on a level playing field? Because, as laid out in detail in this post, it’s wildly expensive (when a public-school education is available to all Americans for $FREE), and after shelling out all that money, the quality of the secular education (especially at Orthodox day schools) isn’t necessarily all that good, and the quality of the Jewish education (especially at non-Orthodox day schools) isn’t necessarily all that good either. Day school is also contrary to the values of many American Jews who believe in public education. And so, to succeed, day school has to make the case that there are no viable alternatives.
    The easiest way to make that case is to point out that Hebrew school sucks. You’ll certainly find no argument from me (as a Hebrew school alum) on that point. But to compare apples to apples, the comparison has to be between day-school-as-it-is and Hebrew-school-as-it-is. And people are realizing that day-school-as-it-is is financially unsustainable, and the model needs to be modified (and this post calls for such modifications). So day-school-as-it-should-be has to justify itself relative to supplementary-education-as-it-should-be, not just the easy target of Hebrew-school-as-it-is. You invoke the independent minyan phenomenon in the post; just as this phenomenon does not take established Jewish structures for granted, the next revolution in Jewish education doesn’t have to either, and need not be restricted to day schools and synagogue-based Hebrew schools.
    Part of this case also involves fearmongering about children’s future Jewish identity. (Thank you, Raysh, for not playing the intermarriage card, which is played too often in these situations.) This way, day schools (as well as other Jewish educational institutions) are not held accountable for their educational outcomes, but only for their “impact” on later Jewish identity. I put “impact” in scare quotes, because the studies that demonstrate a relationship (which are often carried out by people working for the institutional structure that is being studied, which seems like a massive conflict of interest; are these studies ever published in peer-reviewed journals?) usually don’t distinguish between correlation and causation, and don’t correct for the selection bias of which families choose to send their children to day school (or Hebrew school, etc.).
    Even if this case is weak, all it takes is convincing a critical mass, and then it becomes a self-sustaining and self-fulfilling chain reaction. People who aren’t otherwise inclined to send their children to day school might see that that’s what all the other serious Jewish families are doing, and so there’s no one left who would be interested in making serious supplemental Jewish education happen (even if they like the idea in theory). And so they send their children to day school, and this disparity becomes even more pronounced.
    The day school “tuition crisis” (rising costs, combined with a struggling economy which affects both parents and donors) may be a “crisis” for the pro-day school crowd, but for the rest of us, it’s a golden opportunity. Because rising tuition raises the activation energy of that chain reaction, parents will think twice before jumping on the bandwagon, and will be more amenable to creating strong alternatives. (As you show in the post, the “crisis” has reached the point that even Orthodox parents are thinking twice!) I hope we can make the best of this opportunity.
    I wish this didn’t have to be so zero-sum, but I don’t see another way when the day school model depends so fundamentally on delegitimizing alternatives.
    Back to work now, but I still have more to say.

    1. Another example of the reach of day school propaganda is all the articles about “the high cost of Jewish living”, where day school tuition is a huge part of that cost, and is uncritically presented as an obvious and indispensable part of being Jewish. (And in the Orthodox batei din that will only convert people who commit to send their children to 12 years of day school, it actually is a prerequisite for being Jewish!)

  32. Only in full-immersion situations, where a child’s social reality and daily schedule is saturated by Jewishness—such as is very much the case in Jewish day school—can a child begin to understand what an active Jewish life may entail.
    I would say the opposite: living an active Jewish life in the Diaspora (outside of Kiryas Joel, etc.) means being Jewish in a world that is not completely Jewish, and therefore a fully immersive Jewish experience does not adequately prepare a student for this. I went to Jewish camp for many years (and camp is even more immersive than day school since it is 24/7, but is shorter-term), and it was an important and valuable experience, but as I have written, I think camp fails to provide all the tools for living Jewishly in the “real world”, and I suspect day school is the same.

  33. KRG writes:
    The evidence is that given the alternative models we currently have (which excludes new models such as after school programs etc that aren’t currently being implemented) day school and summer camp are the best predictors of identity as adults.
    In other words, it’s the normalization of experience and the creation of Jewish peer groups, not the quality of the education that makes a difference. There are certainly possible alternative models that wouldn’t necessarily mean day school was the only good identity generator.

    “predictors” = correlation
    “makes a difference”, “generators” = causation.
    You can’t do that.
    It’s possible that the causes of increased Jewish identity among day school graduates are in any way whatsoever related to day school itself (and it’s also possible that building runways on your island will cause airplanes to land with cargo), but trying to conclude this based on correlation alone is pure speculation.
    Another plausible mechanism is that parents who send their children to day schools tend to be more Jewishly committed themselves than the general Jewish population, and Jewishly committed parents are more likely to have Jewishly committed children. These studies don’t control for these other variables.

  34. adam writes:
    In these tight financial times, the goal should be to provide the most impactful Jewish education to the most number of children at the most cost effective price point.
    In that case, how can the Jewish community justify using its resources to pay for teachers of secular subjects and other services that are provided by the state for free?

  35. @BZ I dont agree that it should. Most Jewish folks actually live in better than average school districts anyways- that’s one reason my folks didn’t let me go to day school. they were already paying for the best schools in the state through property taxes (illinois)
    I think there’s a need to try a few different things. The supplementary model doesnt work as presently structured. Maybe there’s a way for students to get school credit as an elective for a more rigourous afterschool course… maybe shuls should consolidate their supplementary schools…
    Its not clear that day schools are THE answer. But maybe they can offer supplemetary ed programs to bolster their income and relieve shuls of the burden of running schools. shuls can negotiate a discount for their members vs. the general public, or maybe the supp. program is only open to shul members (i dont like that but as a way to keep the shuls happy….)
    other ideas?

  36. Adam’s suggestion that synagogues consolidate their supplementary schools only works if they achieve 1+1=3. If the savings achieved by economy of scale are turned into savings — or lower fees — you’re right back where you started. However, if they’re turned into program enrichment, then you have a chance.
    Obviously, the starting point is expectations. The typical supplementary programs I have seen aim at the bar mitzvah, with post-bar-mitzvah retention contingent on the social opportunities the TYG offers. Not good enough! But no kid is going to want more unless the school makes it enjoyable the parents make it non-negotiable, and there is no end point– lifelong learning has to be more than a slogan. (Note: I’m not an educator, but I am a product of supplementary Jewish education, and have also observed it as a parent, grandparent, and spouse of a religious school teacher.)
    I don’t know that the model I grew up with exists anywhere today at a primary school level — but it is a model that the independent minyan community should understand — a parent-run independent school, no synagogue connection, no bar mitzvah focus (if the parents wanted that, they got it elsewhere), guided by a great educator and taught by the best teacher in town. Clear focus: fluency in spoken Hebrew, along with reading, writing, and comprehension; strong identification with Zionism; religion as a cultural artifact. We learned all the appropriate brachot, celebrated all the holidays, and did not wear kipot in class. Correction: we didn’t wear yarmulkes, nobody knew the word kipa then. We didn’t have class on yom tov, but we did have class on Christmas day, albeit in the morning instead of the prevailing two day a week after school schedule. I remember being indignant about that — if my father wasn’t going to work, why should I have to go to school — but I went. No fancy school building either — we met in rented space above a bowling alley.
    Could the model be replicated today? Im tirtzu. In those days, there were no day schools. The general options were synagogue schools (one day a week, unless you wanted a bar mitzvah, in which case you added “special Hebrew” two afternoons a week), or the community talmud torah (4 afternoons a week), or private tutoring for a rote bar mitzvah. And my guess is that for half the Jewish kids I went to school with, it was none of the above.
    All in all, BZ has it right. Jewishly committed parents are the most likely to have Jewishly committed children — and will find a way to pass the torch.

  37. @Larry I wasnt’ advocating that as a particular solution. But I would advocate that we desperately need to fix this. Among the several Hebrew school teachers I know, there are horror stories of their students’ woeful progress that do not bode well for even Bar Mitzvah preparation.
    Whatever the solution, you have hit on something- parents need to be involved for it to be successful.
    I think the whole model needs to be rethought. Hebrew school is dead. Ongoing Family Jewish Ed needs to be the new model.
    Now, what’s that mean????

  38. Israel is also very expensive education price. I have two daughters. At the age of two and five. I pay about NIS 4000 it is my wife’s salary. And this ia no private, It is a public kindergarten! Of witzo

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