Thursday, August 11, 2011
Why Does it Cost So Much to Educate a Jewish Child?
Hat Tip goes to the first read who pointed this out in the comments of the previous post. Thank you R. Mordechai Scher. There were many more who emailed me privately. Thank you to all. Clearly this article is making the rounds.
So, "Why Does it Cost So Much to Educate a Jewish Child?" Rabbi Teitz offers an eye-opening analysis, and an analysis that leaves me to conclude that cost cutting simply isn't going to come from above.
First, the "kitzur" of the article about what costs drive school budgets, and then some of my own thoughts (and your comments):
Staffing and Salaries are the majority of the budget. Educators make a school. Salaries are set by the market and schools compete with each other for top staff, staff driving costs upwards. Cost cutting in this area will drive great educators from the field. Talented educators will choose other fields. If key staff is not maintained, parents to take their dollars elsewhere. Even where population fluctuates, staffing needs maintained for the most part to offer a consistent product. Cutting class size will impact instruction. How significant the impact would be depends on the teacher and students. Cut class size and parents might leave. Where genders are separated, the population might not be big enough to increase class size anyways. Very few school run at capacity as it is. There is a point where annual increases aren't reasonable. Limudei kodesh teachers are reaching that level. There are some unrealistic expectations of remuneration when it comes to administrative salaries.
Special Education Special education basically didn't exist 40 years ago. Now we educate children with special needs and it costs a lot of money. JEC spends nearly $1.5 million, 12% of the budget, on "resource room" alone.
Social Workers Forty years ago there were no social workers, today the author's school has 3 plus other guidance staff. Can this be cut? No. There are too many culture influences kids are being bombarded with. ("And this is why public school simply can not be an option.")
Extras The challenge every school has it determining what is a need and what is nice to have. The philosophy is that we want each student to feel good about coming to school. We could save money on sports, music, and art. But the budget wouldn't be cut significantly and it would make a lot of students miserable. Perhaps these students will act out. Excursions could be dropped, but students look back at those fondly.
Technology Listed as needs are computers in every classroom. They don't need to be the latest, but they do need to be up-to-date. Parents see the increased technology as a need at this point, and parental expectation drives costs.
Competition Schools need to offer what other schools do or they will lose students. Reducing student population means increased tuition for the remaining families. You can't win this one. Some might argue that creating a nurturing environment should be the purview of shuls, not schools. This would only transfer costs.
Administration The author won't say that some layers of administration aren't necessary, but argues there is more need than people will admit. His argument is that if a principal of a 400 student school were to give each student 5 minutes of time a week, this would consist of 33 hrs and 20 min, or nearly a full time job, hence the greater need for administration.
Kodesh For schools that only teach limudei kodesh in the morning, the challenge becomes how to offer a full-time job if the teacher cannot cross the divide into chol, and most cannot. The same challenge is not shared on the limudei chol side as public school teachers and administrators (!) look to supplement their income. To attract quality teachers for a half-day work, "full-time jobs must be created for them. And from that necessity was born the coordinator. Not an administrator, but something beyond just the classroom instructor; more pay, but not at an admiration's level. And hiring one person to do the myriad of tasks of the coordinators won't really be that much less expensive, plus it would not address the attraction and retention issue." The Rabbi does leave open a possibility of cost cutting here, as he states that when budgets are tight, mid-level jobs have to be redistributed and positions eliminated.
My thoughts (excuse me as I reminisce out loud while offering some thoughts):
The Rabbi's article was not a brainstorm about how to cut costs, but rather what schools are spending on ("why it costs so much"), and how competition plays a large part in determining what money is spent on. Reading in between the lines, the brainstorm is depressing. A demanding parent body in an out-of-pocket education system transforms us into our own worst enemies. Rationality, as Rabbi Scher point out in the article's comments, is not at play here. (With all the ills of a bloated public education system, it seems there is more promise there to control costs). Add that to the admission that jobs were "created" and I'm not sure we can actually lower costs much. We all know that it is far easier to hire than fire, and that once an expense is deemed necessary, cutting back is near impossible.
What the article really is, to me, is a study in how education has changed. I'm not convinced the product is better for all the changes.
I wish I knew what Jewish education looked like before social workers and resource rooms. I'm guessing it looked a lot like my elementary school. There we had 1 principal, a gentle, but firm man named Mr. G. . . . . As I recall, there was a secretary in the administrative area (maybe 2), as well as the school nurse. Come to think about it, in the 3 years I was at that school, I probably only visited the administrative area 5-6 times, mostly to see the school nurse. My recollection of education back in the day was that administration pushed papers and reviewed staff. I recall the principal spending a morning in my classroom each year. I don't believe that principals were expected to interact with each students, certainly not 5 minutes a week, nor were they expected to be hooked up to their blackberries texting with parents! On the contrary, being called into the principals office was scary, and you simply didn't see the principal much.
I recall being called into the principal's office in the 1st grade. Boy, was I scared. The call followed a lunchroom altercation. I was shaking in my fake Keds when I arrived. The visit was short and sweet. Mr. G said to me, "You aren't in trouble. So don't be scared." He then let me know that R was sent home for the day, this wouldn't happen again, and that the nurse would help me wash and dry my shirt so I could wear clean clothing. Thank G-d for fast drying polyester blends. I was back in my panda bear sweatshirt with purple sleeves in no time.
We didn't have social workers in every school to deal with R's problems. There were school psychologists, shared across the district, but none dedicated to any one school. What we did have was p'ed off parents (excuse my language), i.e. parents whose schedules were disruptive to deal with their unruly child, or take a child home midday. I don't want to glorify what was, because there was plenty of bad behavior to go around. But I do think there is a break down in authority and I also believe few kids today get knots in their stomach thinking of what will happen if Dad finds out.
I wonder if administrator duties have changed in public schools today. Today (private Jewish), I see the principal meeting and greeting parents and students in carpool line. And I do believe the students have quite a bit of interaction with the principal (I can't quite recall ever meeting with the principal in the other elementary school I attended). In Yeshiva high schools, I know administrators also teach classes and students spend quite a bit of time with them as there is a more "open door" policy.
Other things we didn't have in elementary school: regular phys ed, art, or music (except for 5th grade band which was totally optional and I'd say about half the class didn't participate. . . I was a non-participant as my parents thought I was better off concentrating on the extracurricular I had already committed too and didn't want me pulled out of class. When band was an elective class, I was allowed to join). I recall a shared P.E. teacher visiting a few times in upper elementary. It wasn't particularly enjoyable. Instead of hitting the soccer field or jumping rope, we had to play organized volleyball. I was about 3 feet too short for that and my serve hit the net if I was lucky. We didn't get much exercise just standing there. There was a shared choir teacher who came around the holidays (I asked to be excused). There was a shared art teacher who came around from time to time. I have no particular recollection pleasant or unpleasant. For the most part, teachers enriched according to their interests. I could have done without one interest. On the other hand, one teacher taught us double-dutch during recess.
One comment (highlighted above, and quoted here in full) really stands out to me. Not for what it says, but for what it doesn't say: "And even those families who are firmly committed to Jewish education still need their children in a nurturing Jewish environment, inside and outside of school. One could argue that this should be the purview of the shuls and not the schools. True enough, but it would only transfer the cost." [Warning: about to step into seriously politically incorrect territory] The expectation is that children must be fully nurtured by the community. Hence the growing demand for social workers, programming, etc. What about transferring some of the responsibility to parents? I guess that boat has sailed. After all, when tuition bills reach into the five, and even six, figures, parents have to outsource these things and schools need to compete. And after paying tuition, there isn't much energy, time, or money left for outside enrichment.
As for the increase in special education services, this is a very touchy area. Over the years, I've read letters from parents that are accusatory in nature. I've never touched the subject here because it is like a hot potato. I feel for parents who are have children that with greater needs, but I simply don't see how private school can accommodate all needs out there with their current resources. It is quite possible too much has been bitten off as it is (see the note about 12% of the budget on resource room alone). There is something unpleasant about being told "we" aren't doing enough, when things are what they are.
In the comments, Rabbi Berger makes a very provoking comment on special education: "Next, speaking as a father who spent years paying for Bridge Classes for a number of children, as well as a child who has Downs…. There is Special Ed and Special Ed. It’s one thing to provide yeshiva education for children who are labeled things like ADD, ADHD, dyslexic… these are critical members of society who the next generation cannot function without. There is also Special Ed like my son with Downs requires. Is his daily yeshiva a communal need or a want? From a straight and admittedly brutal triage perspective, will we pay for one special child to get a basic Jewish education or take that money to pay for over a dozen mainstream or several learning-disabled children? An adult with Downs is not likely to head off the derekh just because his Jewish education is in Sunday School or an after-school program. Real cost cutting will require making those hard decisions, and our unwillingness to face them makes it impossible to make ends meet.."
I will leave my thoughts at that. Personally I'm not convinced smaller classes, more competitive pay, and more everything has created a more enviable product. But, so long as others think it has, the cycle will continue.
This is far too lengthy and I need to get to work to pay tuition :)