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Wednesday, January 27, 2010


When I starting writing, I thought there might be a way out of the tuition crisis. I'm currently resigned that change isn't coming this way.

Hat Tip: A reader who is free to self-identify

The Jewish Standard just published a report about the North American Jewish Educators conference, held in Teaneck recently. Registration for the conference ranged from $500-$595 excluding accommodations. It was attended by 550 educators. I really do hope that something to help the "tuition crisis" will come out of these rather pricey conferences (is there no facility to replace a Hilton or Marriott?). But I'm resigned. I think we need to consider non-conventional alternatives. But if the approach is one that "there is no alternative to day school," the community will miss the opportunity to test some potentially viable alternatives before collapse (sorry for the gloom and doom, I just don't believe that a funding model in which the "haves" are expected to carry a bigger burden each year is economically sound).

The money quote: “Our fundamental belief is there is nothing wrong with our educational model. Our educational model is wonderful. What’s wrong is our funding model.”

More later.


Honestly Frum said...

Our fundamental belief is there is nothing wrong with our educational model. Our educational model is wonderful. What’s wrong is our funding model.”

I don't know if they see the two as being seperate. Yes there are some people in the middle yelling about how bad the costs are but it is supply and demand. So long as the schools have customers willing the pay the price and waiting lists why should they change?

Upper West Side Mom said...

(sorry for the gloom and doom, I just don't believe that a funding model in which the "haves" are expected to carry a bigger burden each year is economically sound).

One of the things that I find frustrating about the high price of tuition is the scholarship process. It seems like no one at the schools wants to discuss this. I am very frustrated when I see scholarship families taking a family of 6 to Israel, owning summer homes, sending their children to expensive camps (or even sending them to camp) and buying expensive clothing for themselves and their kids. One way to cut the price of tuition is to be more selective about who really needs a scholarship.

As a full freight family who will be paying $98,000 next year in tuition and busing (yes I live in the NY tristate area) I am tremendously resentful of families receiving scholarships who obviously are being dishonest and of families who are not willing to make the same sacrifices that those who are paying full price make.

It really makes me think about what other options are available to us including home schooling. I would have to earn $170,000 a year in order to cover the price of our tuition when I go back to work (which I will do when my youngest is in kindergarten for the full day). If I did home school, even with some support like tutors we would come out well ahead financially and I could be home with my children as well. I'm fairly certain that there is no way that I could earn that much money working freelance or part time.

Thinking said...

Nobody cares beyond feeling the need to complain. Yesterday I posted this on HF's blog as an attempted solution. The rest of the comments on the board were either complaints or hashkafa. I'll try again here.

BTW the reason why the supply and demand argument does not work is that the schools are not a business, they are community schools. Parents expect to be able to send their kids to a community school.

Schools need to research alternative teaching methods such as

They can stop hiring subject specialists and get one great teacher who can facilitate multiple subjects. The future of learning is facilitated/moderated learning, not lecture.

In addition, there is great software that can tailor lessons based on students needs day to day. Yet schools have teachers who get up in front of 25 students and try to teach them all the same things.

Change is hard, but schools need to start thinking about it now with the goal of implementing them soon.

Eli said...

$500 x 550 educators = $275k.
If cost of tuition/child year is $10k that's where 27.5 students' worth of tuition went. Not to Jewish education but for fancy food at the Marriott.

And, according to the website it is $585-605 per participant and close to 600 participants. That brings it well over 32 students' tuition. (

Thinking said...

Just a quick follow up. At the very least schools should take another look at the educational model. They have been working on the funding model for years without much success. Maybe it's time for a new approach, the educational model.

Tuition Talk said...

The Jewish Standard appears to be down now, but I can't wait to read this article and discuss it on my blog.

Like you, I'm pretty much resigned. I don't think a solution will come from within. The schools have paying customers, there's no reason for them to change. For them it's just an issue of managing complaints and trying to make sure the "haves" can keep subsidizing the "have nots." This economy has challenged that model, but this recession is just a temporary set back for this model.

At the same time, most people are happy with the yeshiva education (see HonestlyFrum's post on this). Personally, I think the yeshiva educational model stinks and intend to write about this as well.

anon1 said...

The alternative schools (day schools or whatever) will have to be led by alternative educators who have a superior vision to inspire students, parents and other supporters.

No one can evaluate "alternative" in the abstract; we need experiments to witness in action. It's like elections. You can't beat somebody with nobody.

Bklynmom said...

Parents have to be willing to make some tough decisions. If a local yeshiva is too expensive, switch to one further away. If you want/need to stay local, switch to a public or charter school. If you want to be local and have a Jewish setting, home school or coop school. It's tiring to hear complaints and see no action.
The scholarship system will never be fixed. There will always be parents who have cash businesses and no money on paper. There will always be parents who receive aid and install granite countertops in their newly expanded kitchens, go on vacations, eat out, etc. There will, unfortunately, always be dishonesty. Every family needs to pick a solution that works for them, financially, ideologically, whatever.
I recently met a high school student who happens to attend the private school I graduated from. The school is in Brooklyn. The girl (non-Jewish) lives in Long Island. Before getting into this school, she spent every weekend for two years traveling to Manhattan for Prep-for-Prep, a program that prepares kids from underprivileged backgrounds for admission to prep schools. Both she and her parents gave up their weekends (and probably weeknights, since there is homework involved) to get her into the right school. She did get in and now commuted from Long Island to Brooklyn every day, well over an hour each way. Her parents drive her to the school bus stop in Brooklyn and she takes the bus from there. And, no, her day is not shorter than that of a yeshiva child; her school starts at 8:30 and goes until 6 with extra-curricular activities that she is involved in. Now, if her family can do that, why can't any Jewish families I know sacrifice to make the right choice for their family? Why are we so spoiled that our schools have to teach just right, cost just the right amount and be no more than 10 minutes away?
When my husband and I realized that our children's (local, prominent) yeshiva was costing more that we could afford, we looked around and decided on a school in another borough, resulting in a hour-long bus ride for our 5th and 2nd graders. We discovered that the new school, in addition to being more affordable, is also far superior academically. The old school thinks they are the only MO game in town and can charge as much as they want and challenge children as little as they want. I'm happy and grateful we looked around; we are far better off as a family. We will also be looking at our local public school and the charter school for our preschooler, since it seems silly to spend money on preschool tuition. He would not learn anything Jewish in yeshiva in preschool that he would not know from home.

Miami Al said...

Looking for leadership to solve the problem is an exercise in futility. The Rabbanim, for GOOD reason, are focused on status quo, preventing change, and evaluating what happened.

Things opposed by the Rabbinate over the years:
Leaving Europe in the 1930s
Moving to Israel from Russia/Europe in the late 1800s, early 1900s
Establishment of a Jewish state in Israel
Coordinating with non-Orthodox Jewish groups organizationally
Taking advantage of the liberation of Jerusalem
Establishment of an actual "Day School" instead of a Eastern European Yeshiva

Every single one of those things took place over the objections of the Rabbinate, were good for the Jewish people, and it would be better if more people disobeyed.

There is no doubt an even longer list of "reforms" and "changes" to the Jewish world opposed by the Rabbinate that in hindsight were a disaster.

What's the point?

The Free Market works. All the financial problems in Day School land are a function of Free Market forces with an colluding oligopoly of schools that use artificial differences to be local monopolies (Hashkafic differences that are VERY minute compared to how schools were 50 years ago), and societal pressure to erect barriers to entry (nobody will let their kids play with my kids if my kids go to a different school).

Honestly Frum is looking for the Rabbinate to solve the problems. Command and Control economies DO NOT WORK. Expecting them to function like a Soviet Politburo to manage the Jewish economy is inviting failure... first, they aren't economic experts, and two, even if they were, central planning normally DOES NOT WORK.

What does work? The chaotic marketplace, and all of us trying different things.

I think Charter Schools will do to observant Judaism what Day Schools did a generation ago... introduced basic Jewish education to mass numbers of Jews in a cost effective manner.

The ONLY things off limits in terms of "Jewish education" in a charter are "religious" elements: prayer and rituals. Seriously, you can't do a private prayer group in the morning and ritual education (Brachot) in the afternoon? Jewish philosophy, reaction to enlightenment, history, etc., that's ALL valid in a Charter environment.

If I'm wrong, the Charter experiment will fail, but to keep opposing people trying new things is a recipe for disaster.

Lion of Zion said...


my son's best friend switched to the charter school last year. they love it. only complaint is they feel it is too academic and not enough enrichment-type activities. there is also no (in my opinion) adequate supplementary jewish education available yet.
my wife works in a marine park public school that meets or (usually) beats our son's school by all measures.
i hope i have the guts to consider public/charter at least for pre-school when my baby is old enough.

regarding the school you switched from/to, would you mind emailing me? orthonomics has my private email, or you can email (but i often miss a lot of emails there unless i know to look for them)

Lion of Zion said...


"Honestly Frum is looking for the Rabbinate to solve the problems."

HF has the best of intentions. but i think he is seriously delusional (nothing personal HF) in his hopes for the rabbinate to step up to the plate.
and i don't think its necessarily due to lack of empathy on the part of the rabbis. i just think there are way too many conflicts of interest that keep the rabbis committed to the status quo.

Honestly Frum said...

"Honestly Frum is looking for the Rabbinate to solve the problems."
I don't recall saying that nor do I believe it to be true. I do think that our rabbonim can and should play a lanrger role than they currently are but I don't think they are the ones who are going to solve it.

Miami Al said...

Want a 100% Hashkaficly pure environment, pony up $12k/year and stop complaining. Can't afford it? Work a second job. Still can't afford it, have the wife work a second job. Still can't afford it, sell the house and rent an apartment.

A good friend of mine that went to prep school with me lived in a SMALL rented house in a safe but not prestigious part of town because they wanted their kids to go to a top notch school.

People that WANT a luxury for their children sacrifice to make it happen.

The thing about Day School that bugs me is NOT the costs, it's the constant complaining about tuition this, and tuition that. You want the kids in private school, you cover tuition. Your judgmental neighbors won't talk to you if your kids aren't in school with their kids... find new friends.

I don't get the clique, whiny, entitled attitude.

I think that making Day School a REQUIREMENT for Modern Orthodoxy was a HUGE mistake. That's why you feel taken advantage of and everyone is miserable.

Mazal Tov, your kids may never sit next to a child of color, but you're ignored R. Moshe Feinstein's admonition that a generation that said "it's hard to be a Yid" let to a generation of assimilation. Changing it to "it's hard to be a MO Yid" will lead to a generation of MO Yidden that won't be MO.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Miami Al

Lion of Zion said...


i misunderstood you and i'm sorry that i then gave the wrong impression as to what you said.

but i still think your hopes for the rabbiniate to "play a larger role than they currently are" are misplaced.

the conflicts of interest are just too strong.

besides, it's not like that this tuition problem crept up on you overnight. where have they been on this matter for the past 10 years?

Anonymous said...

Miami Al: I'm not so sure the day school model was a huge mistake in the past. It worked pretty well for about two generations. The problem is that economic conditions have changed and going forward, it probably is not sustainable except for a select group of the very wealthy and a small group of scholarship students they chose to subsidize. Part of the problem is not just the escalation in school costs beyond normal CPI and inflation rates, its that we've hit a glass ceiling on economic mobility. When everyone already has grad degrees and is working long hours and wives are also working, there isn't any way to see big income increses to fund the increasing school costs. Add to that the fact that MO communities seem to cluster in very expensive parts of the country, and its not sustainable.

Conversely, the fact that public school did not work for some in the past does not mean it can't work going forward. Many after school programs were, frankly, subpar and did not interest or excite kids. A much better job can be done going forward to give public school a fair try.

Miami Al said...

Anon 2:19,

We are all guilty of tending towards absolutes, myself included. I didn't question the purpose of Day School, I think that Day School was a good thing.

I wrote, "I think that making Day School a REQUIREMENT for Modern Orthodoxy was a HUGE mistake."

That's very different than suggesting that opening them was a huge mistake.

Normally, in economics, firms operate on the upward slop of the cost curve, where serving one more customer costs more than the one before. The cost curve starts out downward sloping because economies of scale kick in, and the average cost can decline for a while because of amortization of fixed costs, but the marginal costs normally increase.

In agriculture, it's because the first acre farmed is normally the most productive, and as you increase, you use slightly inferior land... even if you can amortize your tractor across more land.

In a service business, like schooling, it increases because each teacher you "recruit" is slightly more expensive for the quality. Assume I have 30 applicants to teach, and I need to fill 5 spots, I take the best 5. If I need to fill 15 spots, I take the best 15, that's why the marginal cost increases as we grow the school... more marginal teachers enter, more expensive teachers enter (people not qualified but wanting tuition breaks), we end up with assistants, etc.

A generation ago, the schools wanted to give everyone an education, but expected sacrifices to do it. Now, everyone is entitled to an education, regardless of WILLINGNESS to pay... we call it ability, but if you overleverage into an expensive house and sign a lease for an expensive car, you had the ABILITY to pay, but chose to pay for other things first, so it's a WILLINGNESS issue.

Modern Orthodox Jewry is disproportionately educated professionals. Educated professionals congregate where there is work for them, which is in expensive coastal areas. If Modern Orthodoxy held up an ideal of chemical engineering for defense contractors, we'd be in different areas.

Yes there was a jump up the ladder over the generations from Jews getting more education and entering into American society. That jump can't be duplicated.

However, the income gain has been for decades, the cost skyrocketing has been for 10-20 years depending on region. The move to educational entitlement that coincided (or caused) larger families has been more recent, and caused the current disaster.

I've attacked the demand side, but the interest in educating EVERYONE regardless of willingness to pay has increased the cost structure, pushing the supply curve leftward.

Rightward demand + Leftward Supply = MUCH HIGHER COSTS

Shoshana Z. said...

My motto is: "Just do it!" Anyone who wants to know more about the homeschooling option is very welcome to contact me by email - shozo (at) earthlink (dot) net. We've already established that homeschooling is not the only solution, but it is one of the good ones. So be in touch if you want. :)

Light Of Israel said...

That quote is exactly how the leadership feels.

The spending is perfect. The salaries and staff levels, also perfect.

If just they could get more money from other sources. That is why the schools are the biggest fans of NNJKIDS. Free money with no strings attached. If they could raise tuition, they would do that too.

After all, the only problem is the funding...

megapixel said...

I still think that the mo schools should take a page out of the Yeshiva's book. why can they do the job for five or six thousand vs the MO standard of ten or fifteen thousand?

Orthonomics said...

At least OOT the price differential between yeshivish schools and modern Orthodox schools is not that large. In an old post I references Toras Emes tuition in LA in 2006 at $12K. I don't believe this tuition was much below more modern schools in the area.

I've referenced plenty of articles about RW yeshivot being behind on payments to teachers. I don't want to be cynical, but I believe this plays a part in the price differential.

JLan said...

"I still think that the mo schools should take a page out of the Yeshiva's book. why can they do the job for five or six thousand vs the MO standard of ten or fifteen thousand?"

Because the MO schools have smaller class sizes, provide more acoutrements (computers, extracurriculars, funding for programs), and hire more qualified/experienced/competitive faculty (and so have to be reasonably competitive with the public schools). The sources of the tution issues are no mystery; the question is, rather, when MO parents will decide that their schools don't need to be so fancy or that public schools are an acceptable alternative.

Anonymous said...

The MO yeshivas that pride themselves on providing a secular education that approaches a public school education, are fooling themselves.

Bklynmom said...

I sent you an email at arisblog yesterday with subject line "schools."

Avi said...

Tuition scholarship abuse is a really small part of the problem but seems to be a large focal point for full tuition paying parents' anger. This is understandable, as many full tuition families are stretched to the max and are economizing in ways they would prefer not to - including keeping family size low (or lower than they'd like). I have long argued that we should divorce scholarships from schools and make it a communal function. I still stand by that, but from the numbers I've seen it would have minimal impact on overall tuition levels.

I think schools have to stop giving scholarships to teachers, administrators, and the local rabbinate. First of all, administrators need to feel the impact of a tuition raise on their own budgets and their staff. Salaries might have to be raised - though not by the actual value of the free tuitions! - and some teachers will still undoubtedly be pushed into the need-based scholarship line. However, the overall payroll+benefits cost to paying parents would be lower, and this would push a LOT of part time teachers out of our schools and into the external economy (either working for non-Jewish schools or in other careers). I'm willing to bet that this would meaningfully lower the cost of tuition, probably by about 1/3.

However, this is a wrenching change that the current administration will not push for, because it would mean many of their staff members, their families, and themselves having to completely rethink their careers and their budgets. They'd be - dare I say it - like the rest of us.

JLan said...

"The MO yeshivas that pride themselves on providing a secular education that approaches a public school education, are fooling themselves."

That's exceptionally cryptic- how are they fooling themselves? Is it that the secular educations aren't as good as they claim? That the Jewish ones aren't as good as they think? I really have no clue what this comment is supposed to mean.

Miami Al said...

Avi, I think it is less divorced from the increases than people think.

1. Scholarship availability increases demand, which leads to more schools fighting for the same tzeddakah money and competing for teachers, which drives costs up... and tacit collusion and division my minor hashkafic differences prevents the benefits of competition.
2. "Tuition" needs to cover costs, but as scholarship increases, the percentage of tuition collected goes down. This means that the "rack rate" listed goes up more than costs... ex. imagine Day School collects 67% of tuition dollars. If costs go up $10/student, then tuition goes up $15/student, since the school collects 67%. If the increase will push more people into scholarship, then the percentage collected goes down with the increase, so the increase may be more. If inflation is 3% and costs go up 4% in a given year, tuition may go up 6% or more.
3. Scholarship mean some portion of the student body doesn't suffer ANY increases. Some percentage of the student body is on scholarship, 1/3 is extremely common, 1/2 common, and 2/3 or more is atypical but not rare. Remember, your scholarship parents are paying "what they can afford," if tuitions go up, their costs go up by ZERO. i.e. a family that can afford $12k when tuition is $20k gets $8k in scholarship, but if tuition goes up 5% to $21k, their scholarship goes up to $9k because they can only pay the same $12k.
4. Scholarship levels increase push for higher costs. The family on scholarship is supposed to be at the point it hurts, paying every penny that they can. This means ALL their disposable income is tuition, so they are going to want the best. Who can stomach a benefit cut when you sink every penny in there. This means scholarship parents push for MORE service, and any increase in costs is borne 100% by others, since they pay the same if costs are flat, drop 10%, or increase 10%.

So scholarship is seen as a minor thing, but it's a HUGE part of the economic equation that pushes costs up.

5. Scholarship prevents competitor from entering, because for scholarship families, who should be customers for a lower priced school, aren't interested because it would costs the same because their price w/ scholarship is the same or lower, or not much cheaper.

If average tuition is $12k in a town, and a low cost school is proposed at $6k, everyone on 50% or more scholarship has ZERO reason to switch from the $12k school to the $6k school, where they get less "benefit" for the same money. Anyone on some scholarship but < 50% still has little reason to move, why get half the education and pay 60%, 70% or 80% as much.

And while the struggling full payers may say they want a cheaper option, how is the family going to face their neighbors putting their kids in a cheaper school despite making more money than the scholarship families, this creates social pressure to stay at the high ones.

Anonymous said...

LOZ - there is also no (in my opinion) adequate supplementary jewish education available yet.

And, in fact, many Rabbanim actively oppose such programs because they don't want a decent alternative to yeshiva day school to exist. Having a reasonable alternative of charter+afternoon yeshiva is very threatening to them because it would further destabilize the existing day schools.


aml said...

I'd love to see these conferences move to an online model. It would be cheaper and would send a clear message that times have changed and we need to pinch pennies. Even... wait for it.... .... hold the online conferences after school hours so the teachers could "attend" the conferences and the school wouldn't have to hire a sub. I know, I know... more work for the teachers, but that's OK. Its just a few days of extra work; the world world won't stop turning.

Anonymous said...

as long as yeshivas do not open their books there will be no improvement.