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Thursday, May 27, 2010

To the Exclusion of All Else

Hat Tip: Honestly Frum

There is an article up on ephilanthropy which probably will not be given much of a look in Orthodox circles titled "Day School or Nothing?" The Conservative Jewish author challenges the notion that "there is day school and there's not day school" writing "'no alternative to day school' is problematic because there must be an alternative." He goes on to state "unfortunately, binary decision-making by Jewish leaders and educators in the past two decades meant the 'smart money' and intellectual capital in Jewish education and philanthropy went to Jewish day schools, at the expense of supplementary schools and other alternatives."

This is a thought provoking and important statement and certainly one which the Orthodox community might need to grapple with in the future. I personally don't think we can continue down the road of supporting only one model to the exclusion of others.

But such will probably be. Please see this article at BeyondBT promoting homeschooling. As a supporter of homeschooling, but not an actual homeschooling parent (although I've been accused of such since as I keep my children home far later than is currently trendy!), I personally don't care for the way in which this particular article promoted homeschooling (just an issue of style). But please try to look past such and focus on the comments of Mr. Marvin Schick, who was asked about homeschooling in an interview, as it is in direct relationship to the subject for which I began this article. Mr. Schick is quoted as saying:

“I can understand why parents with limited income who face high tuition bills might pursue that route, but even with the tuition crisis, I doubt that many parents will opt for homeschooling. For one thing, Orthodox families partake of the general societal trend in which both parents work. This alone makes homeschooling difficult.” Asked whether he felt that Avi Chai may take a position on home schooling or even provide support for home schooling families, he replied that Avi Chai is not presently involved in home schooling and that he is certain it will not provide support for home schooling. Nevertheless he does also acknowledge, “ . . . the inability of our schools to accommodate boys who are not good learners or students who are just a bit off the beaten track.”

I have enjoyed Mr. Marvin Schick’s articles on day schools and financial issues for many years now, often finding myself nodding in agreement . I find it sad that he is on record essentially dismissing the possibility of supporting homeschoolers, or other opportunities that might open up such as group schooling or hybrid schooling. Day schools and yeshivot are most certainly a very important component of the fabric of our community, but I worry that they are eating more and more of the communal and family budget to the exclusion of other programming, developed or undeveloped.

I get the feeling that NCSY, Bnei Akiva, Pirkei/Bnot groups are far less supported and popular today. I already know a handful of children from religious families who are enrolled in public school, and while I try to avoid predicting the future, I do believe that number will grow, financing being the primary reason. While many believe that Shomer Shabbat parents will do anything to keep their children in a yeshiva/day school, I do believe we will see more families leaving the confines of the day school. I already know a handful and I know others that talk about it and I'm not certain that it is just talk. I'd personally like to see support for alternatives developed at the leadership level, but I'm not counting on it. I do admire those who have taken a step outside of the box and formed alternative schools such as the Jewish co-op school in Flordia and the Yeshiva Alternative in Los Angeles, as well as homeschoolers, and it would be nice to see leaders leave the black and white world of "day school or not day school" and consider the possibility of supporting (or at least not completely dismissing) some viable alternatives.

Now is probably a good time to give a Yashar Koach to the Lookstein Center on their newest journal looking at the Financial Crisis and the Jewish Day School. It was such a pleasant surprise to see a "Tuition Crisis" edition that contained some debate regarding charter schools, as well as articles on the alternatives mentioned in the paragraph above. Also, as Public Service Announcement: Second Annual Torah Home Education is coming on Sunday, June 13 in Baltimore. The speaker lineup looks impressive and I welcome guest posters as I always do).

As the Conservative Jewish author writes: "We need a more holistic approach to Jewish education, one that doesn’t pit one model against the other, but instead regards Jewish education as a continuum that contains a variety of viable alternatives." I think that sums it up well. I think it is a mistake to dismiss alternatives as "not day school."

24 comments:

Honestly Frum said...

A key line which although is a joke, is not all that funny given how on target it is:

I sometimes joke that day schools are the subprime mortgages of Jewish life: They were highly promoted by our leaders and decision-makers, sold to middle income families, and sustainable only when the economy was flying high.

Shoshana Z. said...

Great post SL. I read the article from beyond BT. As a veteran home-schooler I loved it. Can you please share your thoughts on what you didn't like in the article? I'm curious.

As far as Avi Chai, I think the statement is funny. If I'm correct, they are the primary sponsor of chinuch.org. I use a great deal of the materials there and rely on them to supplement my homeschool plans. Hope they don't decide to cut off homeschoolers from using this free resource. ;)

Happy to report that I will be at the Baltimore homeschool conference this year. Can't wait to meet my parent-peers, many of whom I have known on-line for years.

$200k Chump said...

The day school model is collapsing faster than most people think.

Anonymous said...

I think that the public school option is only viable if one lives in a community where there can be a critical mass of like-minded MO kids attending. If one's child is the only one, or one of a very few, the child is likely to feel too uncomfortable in that environment. How does that critical mass movement get started?

Honestly Frum said...

$200K Chump, I think most are aware how quickly it is collapsing. The problem is the communities resistance to alternatives.

tesyaa said...

I'm not sure why homeschooling is preferable to public school + tutoring, especially when the parent is unsure of his or her pedagogic skills or no parent is available to stay home. (Tuition is not the only reason mothers work).

I read somewhere that evangelical Christian children in public school stay strong in their beliefs when they are alone or in a group of two or three. Paradoxically, when there are many evangelicals in a public school, they start to step out on their faith. So I'm not a fan of the critical mass theory. But I'd love to find the source of the report on evangelicals.

The desire for a critical mass is just another way for frum people to be able to segregate from the rest of the population. I don't think those kids will have a successful public school experience. There will be more, not less, discrimination against a group of kids who keep to themselves and appear to have something against the rest of the population.

Shoshana Z. said...

My kids go out to their supplemental activities on their own - dressed modestly in skirts and long sleeves, or with yarmulkas and tzitzis flying. They are strong and proud and unapologetic. In all of these years we have (ka"h) never had a bad experience from other kids or from our kids shirking their Yiddishkeit in public. It's actually the opposite. They go out with strength and pride and the whole thing is really a non-issue.

Shoshana Z. said...

I want to say that I agree with the statements in the post that it is detreimental to pit one path against another. I am in no way advocating for a mass exodus from the Jewish schools in favor of homeschooling. It's a lifestyle, not merely and educational alternative. I grew up in the conservative movement, attended twice weekly Hebrew school and weekly Shabbos school. Attended Camp Ramah in Ojai, CA for 7 years. I credit both of those things with keeping me Jewish in a largely hostile, secular climate. Afterschool programs and Jewish camping are important for the broader Jewish population. Isn't it time we started considering what's best for the entire Am Yisroel rather than considering only the select group that is already Torah observant?

Orthonomics said...

Shoshana,
To try and clarity (I already shortened my comments) that the presentation was an issue of style.

Homeschooling is a tough, but necessary, presentation to make in the frum community. We know this having educators in the family. Even mention homeschooling and they will declare it wrong. No discussion of the merits and demerits. That is your general audience, so first you need to warm them up to the fact that homeschoolers exist, as the article started to do.

Presentation is key and I think digests are best. The article simply hit too many interesting points at once. Like I clarified, what I found difficult was mostly the presentation. Perhaps the subject of a future post, but this is why I do not recommend certain books on frugality. It is fine in a journal/dairy/digest form where an idea, even an idea that I'm resistant to can be absorbed. It is another thing to bombard the reader with too much at once. I'm afriad the article was too lengthy and a bit of a bombardment.

Trying to fill in many of the blanks when promoting an idea often leaves the reader overwhelmed and puts the reader on the defensive.

There are two areas the reader could go on the defensive:
1) the commentary on day care (commentary I've expressed myself even as I do not think it best for young children to be in the home under the care of a person who will be in their life long term. . . .usually a parent!) and

2) the commentary that many kids are not thriving in day school/yeshiva which certainly isn't false, but most parents I speak to (out of town) are mostly happy with how their children are doing in school. I've found that when you project too much in a promotion piece, as opposed to a piece where you are telling a personal story, that overreaching projections aren't a good method of reaching people.

Another comment that was perhaps a bit too much in the discussion was questioning the wisdom of the K-12 system in modern society. I read a lot of social commentary and commentary on modern day education is something particularly intruiging. That said, I think laying out too much could be viewed in the wrong light. In fact the comments at BeyondBT reveal that too much was laid out. An example of such was the misunderstanding that one reader had regarding "unschooling." Those who know something about homeschooling have an idea that "unschooling" is just one philosophy within the homeschool world. But throwing out too much in one article can lead to difficulty in understanding much of the material.

(Wow, that was a much longer response than intended. OK, off we go to another appointment).

Orthonomics said...

Tesyaa-I'd love that reference too. I don't think a large segregated group within public school would work very well either.

JS said...

It's really sad that our community has a "my way or the highway" attitude towards frumkeit in general, and religious education in particular. I feel that the yeshiva system, at this point, is really a matter of throwing good money after bad. We're keeping the model the same and just throwing more money at the problem. NNJKIDS, endowments, life insurance schemes - it's all the same thing - more good money after bad. The model is just fundamentally broken, but instead of acknowledging this, we pretend that if only some huge pot of money existed everything would be great. No one looks at the underlying reasons for WHY tuition goes up at around 8% a year historically, they just figure getting 8% down to say 4% is an acceptable solution.

Meanwhile family after family is doing irreparable harm to their finances by not having emergency savings, not saving for retirement, not saving for colleges, and racking up debt. Not to mention decisions to forgo career options (or working at all) since the money will all go to tuition, or forcing children to have to go to lesser schools and/or forgo grad school if they want to avoid massive student loan debt. And lets not forget grandparents dwindling their own resources over this as well. These harms cannot be undone if for no other reason than losing literally 15-20+ years of compounding interest while the kids are in yeshiva.

At the same time philanthropic dollars are being wasted and intellectual energy is squandered.

There is simply too much of our community tied into the yeshiva system. The countless administrators, the rabbis, the teachers, the shuls, YU, OU, Federation, and countless other organizations make their bread and butter from this system. No one is going to willingly change it. There's just too much to lose for them. It's far better to create more jobs to analyze the situation and hold more conferences.

Since there are no other options at this point, when we have children I think I will use public school and tutors. The local yeshiva is $13k for kindergarten. I expect it will be around $16k in 5 years even if they can keep to 4% increases. I just don't want to get on the "yeshiva train" when I know I can't afford it down the line when the next kids get ready to enter or when high school rolls around. It's pretty sickening since my wife and I both make very good salaries, thank God.

Anonymous said...

JS - I feel that the yeshiva system, at this point, is really a matter of throwing good money after bad.

More and more I tend to agree with this, BUT I still see no reasonable alternative to provide a decent limudei kodesh education for our children. And even worse, the "powers that be" will not permit such an alternative to be created if it will (and it almost definitely will) hasten the demise of [some of] the Jewish day school yeshivot.

Mark

Mike S. said...

1) The original article was mainly aimed at the non-orthodox. It makes sense to have many alternatives available, but fundamentally I don't know how successful they will be. Kids are very good at sensing how important Judaism (or any thing else) is to their parents.

2) Some of you write as though it was easy to pay tuition 50 years ago or 25. It wasn't; it was at least as hard then. If Judaism is important enough to you, you'll do what you have to to give your kids a good Jewish education, whether that means paying the tuition, forgoing an income to home-school your kids or sending your kids to public school and hiring a tutor for 20 hours a week (why you think that is less expensive than tuition, I don't know. And if you think you can give your kids a good Jewish education with 5 or 6 hours a week you are fooling yourself.) Perhaps it would make sense if you could split the tutor among several families who have children of the same age.

3) And frankly, you should do it without whining. Don't think your kids won't notice if you find Judaism a burden.

Commenter Abbi said...

From a child's perspective: We have family friends who need to move from Israel to Greece for 2 years because of the father's work. My daughter, who is friendly with their youngest son who will be going into first grade, is terribly worried about how he will manage in a non Jewish school. Both we and they are modern Orthodox, but living in Israel.

I agree with Mike S.'s last comment. And from my parent's recounting, sending my brother and I to Jewish day school through high school 20 years ago was very hard, even on two incomes. There were quite a few hairy moments of requesting a loan from a boss and from family to cover tuition.

JS said...

I have to disagree with the idea that it was as hard then as it is now. My parents put 3 kids through yeshiva and struggled very hard to do so. They were not on scholarship of any kind.

Let's go back in time to when me and my siblings were all somewhere in the K-8 grades.

My parents, at the time, made the equivalent today of about $100k combined (I'm basing this on what they would earn in the same jobs today). The tuition for the 3 kids in today's yeshivas would be around $50k (kindergarten where we all went is $13k alone).

I can assure you my parents were not paying half their income, pre-tax, to yeshivas.

To make the same point another way, 8th grade tuition about 11 years ago at this school was $6,000. It is now $15,000 plus there is a building fund that didn't exist then of about $3,000.

From $6k to $15k in 10 years is an average of 9% increases a year.

Have salaries gone up that much?

Point is, it's just a fallacy to say that people struggled to pay in the past so people should struggle to pay now. It's a struggle of a wholly different magnitude.

Also, I disagree with your whole premise of "if you think you can give your kids a good Jewish education with 5 or 6 hours a week you are fooling yourself." I think this goes to the larger issue of what the goal is for Jewish education. I married a Jewish woman and we live a LWMO life. Did my yeshiva education succeed on the basis of that alone? Would the answer change if my parents were RWMO and I moved to the left? I can't remember any of the gemaras or rashis I learned. Success or failure? I am nearly wholly reliant on Artscroll if I want to learn. Success or failure? You get the idea.

Mike S. said...

11 years ago $6K would have been cheap, so perhaps what you are seeing is the effect of an unrealistically low (or highly subsidized) baseline. I was paying about $10K per kid then.



When I was a kid it was usual for frum kids to be living in small apartments with 0 or 1 car per family. Vacations were at best once every few years. No one but a Chassidic Rebbe would have considered for a moment having 400 people at a wedding. My father, who probably made about $100K in today's terms wore 2nd hand suits to work.

I had it a little easier when my kids were in elementary school, but I know what I pay people who had the job I did then, and pay has gone up similarly to tuition--pay has probably gone up a little slower as a percentage, but since the pay is much more, the amount left over has also gone up. While housing prices have gone up, interest rates have gone way down (my first mortgage was at 12%/year) so housing costs are less. Someone in the job I had then would be able to send his kids to the same school I did more easily than I could.

I suppose everyone has a different goal for Jewish education, but mine was that my children should be frum, should know enough to appreciate the davening and the mitzvot, get the halacha right without having to call their Rav multiple times per day, that they should be active learners and be able to learn whatever sefer interested them short of some of the esoteric kabbalah seforim, and be able to follow a high level adult shiur. I won't say that has completely been realized, but close enough so that I am reasonably content. I don't think you can get there in a few hours a week. If you have other goals maybe you can meet them in less time.

If you think yeshivot are overcharging (whether because they provide too extensive a service or because someone is being overpaid), the standard capitalist answer would be that someone should be able to make out very well by undercutting them. I would love to see someone develop a less costly but equally or more effective alternative. Feel free.
I'd like to think there is some good way to rely on public schools for secular subjects and pay extra only for limudei kodesh. When I was young there were some serious Talmud Torahs that had some limited success, but also plenty of problems. Perhaps the Hebrew language charter school plus a substantial limudei kodesh supplement may prove a workable model.

You are certainly correct that maintaining an upper middle class life style while sending large families to private school cannot be sustained on a normal upper middle class salary. People and communities have to decide what is important to them. People either need to prepare themselves for more lucrative careers, limit family size, lead less comfortable life styles or cut back on Jewish education. For me cutting back on the amount of Jewish education is my last choice; others are entitled to follow their own judgment.

mlevin said...

When I went to school MO yeshivas were about $3,000 per year. During the presidential race people considered anyone making over $50,000 per year rich. Today that same school chargers about $20,000 and during last election $250,000 and up was considered rich.

Simple math of proportions: 3/50 = 6% and 50/250 = 20%. So, comparative to salaries yeshivas are more costly today.

Mike S. said...

mlevin:

In the first place, 3/20 = 15% compared with 50/250 =20% or 3/50 = 6% compared with 20/250=8%is what you would derive from using your numbers correctly, and not such a big difference.

And anyway, what politicians say is rich is not really a good statistic. I remember at one point during either the 1988 or 1992 campaign Jesse Jackson called anyone making $25K rich (Median income was around $30K at the time). Nor was Mr. Jackson the only one with funny ideas of wealth; around that time I got an ad from American Express offering me a gold card "as a member of the nation's financial elite." The fine print revealed that to qualify one needed an income of $25K so I suppose the "elite" included about 75-80% of the population.

Lion of Zion said...

MIKE S:

"hiring a tutor for 20 hours a week (why you think that is less expensive than tuition, I don't know. And if you think you can give your kids a good Jewish education with 5 or 6 hours a week you are fooling yourself."

a) if you think kids actually spend 20 hours a week learning limude kodesh you are fooling yourself.

b) for me personally the issue is not necessarily the expense per se, but what i am getting for my money. from a purely academic perspective i suspect that most of our kids would do just as well (actually probably be better off) in a decent public school with 4-5 hours/week of 1:1 or 1:2 tutoring by a qualified person

JS said...

Lion,

Shouldn't surprise you, but I couldn't agree more.

Mike S. said...

Lion:

I pay close attention to what my kids do both in school and at home. yes they do (or did, my oldest 3 are out of the house.) It may be that having 1-on-1 instruction can make up for the difference in time, at least partially. You will also have to be careful that you do not communicate to your child that you consider secular studies to be more important.


I grew up in an era when it was not uncommon for kids from Orthodox homes to go to Talmud Torah. These ran from about 6 hours a week to about 15; others went to day school. In my experience the day school kids both knew more and were more likely to stay frum than the kids who went to talmud Torah, and among the latter the ones who went to more the more extensive talmud Torahs were ahead of the ones who went to the 6 hour schools. This may not be only a function of the schooling--what school you went to reflected in part how committed your parents were and the family's level of commitment may have been the determining factor. I don't know for sure.

It is frustrating that one should be able to get the secular schooling for free (or more accurately covered by property tax you are paying anyway.) However, if the Orthodox community is to exploit that, we have to find ways to do so without turning Limudei kodesh into an extracurricular activity.

Lion of Zion said...

MIKE:

"I pay close attention to what my kids do both in school and at home."

i didn't mean to impugn your parenting

"yes they do"

but i still doubt it. my response came out so long i think i will clean it up and post on my own blog later today. please check back later.

"You will also have to be careful that you do not communicate to your child that you consider secular studies to be more important."

so let's overpay for what is probably an inferior education to preseve the abstract ideal notion that limude kodesh is more important. i'm not even sure how many day school grads place a premium on limude kodesh, but to the extent that they do, is this idealization worth it when actual substance is subpar?

"I grew up in an era when it was not uncommon for kids from Orthodox homes to go to Talmud Torah"

i mentioned private (or semi-private) tutors, not talmud torah. but as far as talmud torah goes, that was then, this is now. families are different. communities are different. and the TTs could be organized differently.

"if the Orthodox community is to exploit that"

the only thing the orthodox "community" is willing to do is fight for vouchers or direct funding to yeshivot. imho this is an unwinable fight and a waste of time/resources (and i don't think most people comprehend the "destructive" implications to our schools if these programs would actually pass)

Mike S. said...

so let's overpay for what is probably an inferior education to preseve the abstract ideal notion that limude kodesh is more important. i'm not even sure how many day school grads place a premium on limudei kodesh, but to the extent that they do, is this idealization worth it when actual substance is subpar? I am quite confident that my kids did not have a subpar education. They certainly can handle both Shas and tanach on an adult level, and have been competitive through the college admissions process and in well thought of college programs. If you think the day schools in your community offer a subpar education, by all means look for other opportunities.

i mentioned private (or semi-private) tutors, not talmud torah. but as far as talmud torah goes, that was then, this is now. families are different. communities are different. and the TTs could be organized differently. Could be. I can only describe the experience of my youth. While I don't know what a good limudei kodesh tutor might cost, around here the going rate for a math or SAT tutor is about $50/hr. If you hire one 10 hours per week, 40 weeks a year that is $20K (+ payroll tax and unemployment insurance which will kick in at that level) Might give your kid a better education, but it won't save you money unless you have two kids at a close enough level that the tutor can productively teach both at once.

the only thing the orthodox "community" is willing to do is fight for vouchers or direct funding to yeshivot. imho this is an unwinable fight and a waste of time/resources (and i don't think most people comprehend the "destructive" implications to our schools if these programs would actually pass) I completely agree with you here. I was thinking more along the lines of perhaps a Hebrew language charter coupled with Talmud Torah. Or perhaps Talmud Torah plus full time learning in the Summer.

Anonymous said...

Avi Chai is pulling its support for chinuch.org. Their funding policies do not allow them to fund projects like these for more than 3-5 years.