Thursday, July 19, 2007

Guest Post: Virtual Public Schooling

A reader sent me the following and is looking for comments and suggestions. Some public school districts are currently contracting with a virtual education provider. He believes that this could be rolled out in an area with a large Orthodox Jewish presence (he looks at Lawrence School District in particular) and benefit private school students as well as the school district. Below is his post.

Please leave your comments, address any of your concerns, and most importantly let us know if you would consider enrolling your own child(ren) in such a program if it were available in your area (even if only for a short period of time).

I have many reservations myself, but I find the idea intriguing and would certainly be open to such an option if it was available.

I have an interesting and innovative idea that has the potential to:

  • Give private school students an alternative solution to the current yeshiva model.
  • Give parents of private school students a solution to the current tuition crisis.

  • What I am talking about isn't an original idea, however I believe it would be a fresh idea for yeshiva tuition paying parents.

    I am talking about adding a virtual school to the Lawrence Public School district.

    How does it work?

    Education Management Organizations, like Connections Academy, work with sponsors State DOEs, Public School Districts, Charter Schools and other sponsor organizations to provide a free public school that students attend outside of traditional "bricks & Mortar" walls. Connections Academy's unique program combines the strong parental involvement of homeschooling, the expertise and accountability of public funded education, and the flexibility of online classes. The mission is to help each student maximize his or her potential and meet the highest performance standards.

    How could this be applied to the current chinuch model?

    First, this program would not be for everyone. In fact, it wouldn't even be a solution for the majority. But I believe it would be ground-breaking option and options are something we sorely need!

    There would be a separation between secular education (the virtual school) and the Judaic education.

    For the virtual school, each student would have his/her own unique schedule. That schedule can revolve around his/her Judaic schedule or vice versa. The virtual school schedule would be a personalized and flexible as each student learns at his/her own pace. With Connections Academy's model, Learning Coaches work with the teachers to ensure that the student(s) they are responsible are progressing. Learning coaches are typically stay-at-home family members or even hired individuals. The virtual school itself would be tuition free. Textbooks, lesson plans, online resources, curriculum materials and (usually) computers are included! A complaint often heard regarding virtual schools is the perceived lack of socialization. I believe The Judaic program (not part of the virtual school) would solve this problem.

    The Judaic portion would have to be an "outside-the-box" solution as well. Of course, the Judaic portion of tuition would not go away. However, innovative and flexible Judaic teachers and Rabbanim could devise (diverse in scholarship and in cost) programs for students of this virtual school.

    So, why would Lawrence Public Schools be interested?

    • It can help reverse the declining numbers by attracting private school students.
    • It can help bring higher scoring students under the ranks which would boost the School Report Card.
    • Leveraging technology for education is all the rage!
    • It would actually be a money-maker for the district. Typically, the district would receive per pupil funding in excess of what they would pay for this program.
    • It would offer a solution for children of Orthodox tax payers without the separation of church and state challenges.


    Chaim B. said...

    What this boils down to is homeschooling for secular studies + a yeshiva. I am not convinced that virtual education with pre-packaged lessons works better than traditional ed (any studies done on this?), and the majority of homeschoolers would probably argue that it strips out the flexibility which is one of the nicest features of the homeschool experience.

    Anonymous said...

    First I want to applaud the guest contributor for thinking out of the box and trying to come up with innovative solutions, and SL for supporting this conversation.

    In practice, I think the proposal needs more work. Chaim B.'s assessment is spot-on.

    In addition, the proposal only takes away the costs of the secular program. But what percentage of tuition costs are due to the secular program? The building, infrastructure, utility and other support costs expenses remain, and rebbeim typically earn much higher salaries than secular teachers. So how much would it actually save?

    I agree that any savings is good, but will it be enough to attract parents to a proposition that has elements they may not be comfortable with (e.g., homeschooling, education provided by or co-ordinated by non-Jewish entities, etc.)?

    Anonymous said...

    First I want to applaud the guest contributor for thinking out of the box and trying to come up with innovative solutions, and SL for supporting this conversation.

    In practice, I think the proposal needs more work. Chaim B.'s assessment is spot-on.

    In addition, the proposal only takes away the costs of the secular program. But what percentage of tuition costs are due to the secular program? The building, infrastructure, utility and other support costs expenses remain, and rebbeim typically earn much higher salaries than secular teachers. So how much would it actually save?

    I agree that any savings is good, but will it be enough to attract parents to a proposition that has elements they may not be comfortable with (e.g., homeschooling, education provided by or co-ordinated by non-Jewish entities, etc.)?

    Anonymous said...

    to tzvinoach:
    I think that in fact it would be a somewhat significant savings.
    -At least in middle school and up, you have more teachers in chol than kodesh, which itself would raise costs
    -You can use the existing buildings in more interesting ways. For example, my childrens school has separate wings for boys and girls. Now you can have the girls have their chol in the am at their own leisure, and then the boys in the pm, giving you room for twice the student body.
    -As well, I'm sure there are other things you can do with the existing infrastructure to save & lower costs.

    Anonymous said...

    The teachers, curriculum, and materials have to be good enough no matter what the learning format and location are. Potential users of these services need to do their own homework, looking beyond the buzzwords and assurances.

    Anonymous said...

    As the guest poster, I appreciate the comments.

    To Chaim B:

    "I am not convinced that virtual education with pre-packaged lessons works better than traditional ed (any studies done on this?)"

    Valid point! This is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Therefore, for some it works better, for some it doesn't. There are many students thriving in these programs. The curricula are adjusted for each student, not by class. My 2nd grader, who reads on a fourth grade level, would thrive from such a program. I encourage you to do your own research.

    I admit that the idea is half-baked, but it is a start!

    Anonymous said...

    I'm pretty sure this idea has been mentioned before, but as long as you're doing homeschooling, why stick with the traditional yeshiva model? Why not do something similar with the kodesh learning, maybe with small groups learning together with the help of a private teacher/tutor?

    If I were in America I would definitely homeschool, and I don't understand why more families don't. I know a lot of people here have said that if both parents work, one full salary tends to go just to tuition. Also, personally I think it's better if kids have a bit less learning and more time with their parents than a top-notch school with parents who are always gone and/or completely stressed out.

    Also, if you're home schooling anyway, there's none of this "tuition as birth control" craziness. How sad that the Jewish population in America is declining in part because of yeshiva tuition, it just feels so wrong.

    Finally, while I agree with Chaim B that flexibility is key to homeschooling, most homeschooling parents I know like having some structure too, often in the form of distance/virtual learning.

    Anonymous said...

    Good idea, and similar to my "two-building solution". The Jewish Star a few weeks ago published my letter proposing this idea.

    NYS Education Law Section 3210(b) provides that a child attending public school may be released for religious education, subject to rules established by the Education Commissioner.

    Laws similar to this were upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954.

    The N.Y.S. Education Commissioner has a rule, however, that limits so-called "released time" study of religion to ONE HOUR PER WEEK.

    28 states in our country have NO LIMITS for released time.

    The New York one-hour rule should be repealed. Our children can then attend public school in the morning, cross the street, and attend yeshiva in the afternoon. Our tuition is cut in half. The public schools are revitilized.

    Elliot Pasik, Esq.
    Long Beach

    Anonymous said...

    Maybe something worth considering is a hybrid between homeschooling and a real school. A group of 10 kids, sorted by skills not age, learning with one teacher in one of the parents house.
    This can definetly work up to 4th grade. If the group is really ambitious they can hire two teachers, one for secular one for judaic

    - cheaper for parents, teacher can earn a lot more this way.
    - no need to pay infrastructure or administrators.
    - the kids interact with other kids so you don't have the social problems of homeschooling (this is the main reason why I wouldn't homeschool)
    - parents who want to homeschool but don't have the abilities to it themselves can do it.

    - You need a group of stay at home moms or part time moms who have the abilities to organize it and run it (buy supplies, organize lunches, carpool, pay teacher, etc).
    - You need ALL the parents to understand that introducing politics will be the end any school, and let the organizers do their job.

    Anonymous said...

    My kids were in the connections academy last year and I talked to my local community about using their program for the secular studies (and teach it in the school with tutors). This would help fund the cost of the Jewish day school and provide a solid secular education. There is not reason to "home school" the kids if you used their material with teachers instead of learning coaches. The teachers would not need to do lesson plans etc....
    They thought I was nuts.

    Orthonomics said...

    Chaim B-I know some homeschooling parents (Jewish and non-Jewish) who love the creative aspect. I know other parents who might consider homeschooling or a hybrid of homeschooling if they had a curriculum available to them (you can always add).

    TzviNoach-I think costs could potentially be cut significantly, not just by half. LazarB made some good points. Another point that should be made is that our schools are very small and often end up offering more sections of Geometry, e.g., because they can't combine grades due to other curriculum. Taking this load off could help a lot.

    Ora-Thanks for commenting. But having little and big kids at home does pose issues for the homeschooling parents I know. . . .but certainly not to the same degree as 6 figure tuitions.

    Elliot Pasik-I will pass your email on to my guest poster. He would certainly be an asset your Parents Organization. Also, I'd love a copy of your letter to the editor. I will search myself now.

    Rahel-Most homeschoolers I know ARE part of co-ops and are involved in a number of extracurriculars. The term "homeschooling" is really a bad term and deserves a post of its own. Also, I have yet to meet a homeschooler that is socially "yuck" for lack of a better term. But, I've met plenty of school kids whose social skills leave something to be desired. I think the socialization argument is overblown.

    Also, I have an article in my files from the Wal Street Journal about parents who work and homeschool their children. Parents certainly can work part time and still be involved in a co-op. I will have to find the article and review it.

    Thanks for your comments and welcome. :)

    Please keep the comments coming everyone.

    Orthonomics said...

    Anon above: Is "they" the Jewish Day School administrators?

    Anonymous said...

    Sephardi Lady -

    I don't believe my Jewish Star letter is still available online, and I didn't save it, but I can email you my February 2007 letter to the NYS Legislature from which I excerpted the letter. Point 9 suggests the "two-building solution". You can contact me at

    Elliot Pasik, Esq.

    Anonymous said...

    Although both solutions would be great options to have, the prime diference between my idea and Mr. Pasik's is that students in a virtual program would not be required to physically walk into a public school building(aside from taking state exams). I believe this would be a strong selling point (not to mention the $0 in tuition).

    DAG said...

    Mr. think the average Orthodox student will attend Public school for secular programs?

    Only the MOST modern, I would think. This is not plausible for any form of separate gender school.

    The basic fundamental question that I think is neglected way too often is why do Orthodox parents see it as a necessity to send their children to Jewish schools? I've written on that before:

    Anonymous said...

    Anonymous (whose kids were enrolled in a Connections Academy school last year), was this school in Ohio?

    I think someone (not affiliated with Connections Academy) tried someting like this in affiliation with Telz. I believe they had some problems with segregation issues.

    Lion of Zion said...

    Elliot Pasik:

    public school + supplementary jewish education has never worked in america. one of the greatest advances in american jewish life is the growth of the day school movement. your proposal would roll back the clock. (there are also other considerations aside from the impact on the quality of the jewish eduction, i.e., what becomes of extra curricular activities with your formulation.)

    besides, dag is correct. the vast majority of ortho jews would never consider sending their kids sit with non-jews in class.

    but to go off on a tangent, a few weeks ago someone told me that her town has a public day camp. she said jews should send their kids to the camp because unlike school, there is really not that much that is jewish in jewish day camps, certainly not enough to justify the extra cost.

    Anonymous said...

    dag and ari kinsberg -

    I acknowledge the argument. The after-public school Talmud Torah was mostly a failure. In those years, nonorthodox parents sent their children to public school
    9-3, followed by an hour of Hebrew School, called Talmud Torah, every day, some days, or just Sundays. Many children intermarried, or simply assimilated with no Jewish commitment.

    The current "system" is also failing if you look at the big picture. We have a 50 per cent intermarriage rate, and 90 per cent of American Jewry is nonorthodox. Modern orthodox day schools are mostly for the upper middle class and rich only. Traditional but nonorthodox families, who might consider a day school, are scared away by the price tag.

    In high density Jewish neighborhoods like the 5 Towns or Monsey, the two building solution would work particularly well. Public school 9-12 or 1.
    Yeshiva 12 or 1 to 4 or 5.

    The federal government has recently declared that same sex classes are legal now. No constitutional problems there.

    Our best yeshivas and day schools don't do secular studies very well anyway. The retired teaches are sometimes not motivated, or not very good, and are not paid very well. Let's give it up, and let the public schools pay them, and teach our kids math, science, English, and history.

    I believe this is perfectly doable.

    Elliot Pasik, Esq.

    Anonymous said...

    To those who are enthusiastic about home schooling, keep in mind that not all "working moms" would be good school teachers, particularly for our own kids. Teaching is a skill we don't all have as applied to a school curriculum.

    Ezzie said...

    I believe an old neighbor in Cleveland runs a somewhat similar program for the more RW school there, though it's not through the public schools. It's apparently pretty successful. I wish I could remember the details, but email me if you'd like someone to contact.

    Houston Ima said...

    Another option/possibility is something that my father worked on in the early 1990s. My father worked for a company that was based in Texas that had a teacher give a class through a video feed to students in rural areas that could not afford to have such a teacher, for example, art history. Each classroom would connect to the teacher via video and phone and there were facilitators in each class assisting with assignments and materials (I don't know if the facilitators were older students, teachers, teacher's aides, or who - they were always referred to as facilitators). Students would send in assignments to the teacher, and during the lesson, students had the opportunity to interact with the teacher via the phone. The teacher used all sorts of materials during her lessons, including a zoom-in camera that would would zoom in on a particular image in the textbook (and the textbook was used by all of the classes). I thought it was a fabulous and low-cost way to bring an otherwise-unattainable subject into the classroom. This was in the pre-internet days, but sometimes I think that the low-tech solutions are the best solutions (not that I think this is the best solution either, just another option to throw out there).

    Anonymous said...

    All of these options are very good ideas. They just need to be implemented. How do we do that? The status quo is hard to change. We're confronting a monopoloy. Look at the abuse problem.

    Elliot Pasik, Esq.

    Anonymous said...

    Before implementing anything, there needs to be a majority agreement on what we're trying to implement. There are some good ideas above, but many have been tried and "failed," or are lacking in one area or another.

    One more idea for discussion: what about a yeshiva education in the morning, with afternoon secular studies in a charter school? It could be set up as separate-sex (which would alleviate some of the concerns of a mixed public class), and although it would be open to both Jewish and non-Jewish students, it could be a much more controlled environment than a public school.

    Ely said...

    While the education in many of our Yeshivas is not up to par with the standards we would like, in the more modern Yeshivas (Flastbush, Ramaz, etc..), is the education all that bad?

    I think the call for change is coming from the extremely high costs of tuition. Tuition costs have risen exponentially more than inflation over the past decade. Why is tuition so high? What can we do to cut those costs? I have my theories but I would love to hear what other people's thoughts are. Does it really cost 15-20k to educate a high schooler?

    DAG said...


    That may solve the gender issue. What about the curriculum issues? How many Orthodox parents will send their children to schools that teach what is taught in the average public schools? Forget evolution. What about sex ed, physical education requirements, alternative life styles, inappropriate student organizations, tenured teachers who can teach whatever they wish, etc

    What about the influence of non Jewish students? Most parents I've spoken to feel that Public School is a dangerous, even toxic environment for Frum children. How will you change that?

    I like Anon's idea. NY has been setting up speciality targeted charter schools that serve unique populations.

    I have spoken to a lot of people during my interminable job search. I had the opportunity to speak to an organization called New Visions for Public Schools. They very well MIGHT provide a better solution

    Anonymous said...


    physical education? what would be so wrong if we raised our kids to be health concious instead of fat slobs? (but the other points are good ones)

    Anonymous said...

    A half day public or charter school in the 5 Towns, Monsey, Kiryat Joel would be attended by mostly Jewish children. KJ would be all frum, Monsey mostly, and the 5 Towns also mostly. I have no problem whatsoever with my children attending a 1/2 day public or charter school in the 5 Towns, with other frum children, frei children, and yes, good kids from Christian and other backgrounds. What do you think some of our grandparents did back in Europe, or here in America?

    The status quo is completely unacceptable, not even close. A lot of things need to be done.

    Elliot Pasik, Esq.

    DAG said...

    Ari...make that coed physical education...

    Elliot, there are few RW Orthodox Jews that have that attitude. They'd view attending school with "Frei" Yidden and Christians completely unacceptable.

    I agree, wholeheartedly that the status quo is unacceptable. But so is pursuing untenable solutions.

    What we need is a reordering of our communal funding priorities. There is plenty of money to subsidize Jewish education. We just choose to spend it elsewhere, quite unnecessarily, I might add.

    Anonymous said...


    You're probably correct about the right wingers, although a few might follow, but never lead. The leading will be done by the centrists and left-of-centrists.

    Reordering of our communal funding priorities? This has been spoken and written about for many DECADES, and nothing has ever happened. Rav Moshe Feinstein every year at Aguda Conventions, Marvin Shick in many articles, the Jewish Observer and Jewish Action in special tuition issues two years ago, and my own Jewish Press article in January 2006. The Aguda simcha guidelines are mostly ignored. We Jews don't even have a central fund for donating money to yeshivas and day schools, which the Catholics do, the Negro colleges do, etc. Its time to move on, and make the Government our partner, where I've achieved some moderate succcess lately in the abuse prevention area. Its easier dealing with the Government than our own multiple organizations, with different layers of leadership, who possess a self interest in maintaining their monopoly over the status quo. A half day public or charter school, a.m. or p.m., in an orthodox Jewish neighborhood would work.

    Elliot Pasik, Esq.

    DAG said...

    I agree that we need to make the government our partner, BUT I think you too hastily dismiss the possibility of a reordering of our funding priorities.

    There will be mass flux in the Orthodox world over the next ten years. The right will eventually realize that their positions are not tenable and start moving back to the center( they will, of course, claim that they haven't moved at all). This is the crucial time. IF Centrist Orthodoxy is willing and puts in the time and effort, they can greet the return of the ultra Orthodoxy with a strong, vibrant Orthodoxy that already occupies that middle ground.

    I have long decried the indulgences the more modern Orthodox pay to RW Rabbis, in the belief that the Judaism those Rabbis represent is the most valid form of Orthodoxy. It seems almost unbelievable that people with incredible business sense continue to support a system that encourages incompetence and malfeasance. A vibrant Centrist community, that affirms its status as an equally legitimate version of Orthodoxy, with complete fidelity to the Halachik process, CAN and will draw the money away from the right wing. And those newly secured funds can be used at Centrist institutions, that recognize the importance of efficiency and competence and not only allow, but encourage significant Board oversight. The RW will have to adapt and reform their organizations or they will fail.

    Or we can sit on our hands and allow the RW to reoccupy the center. And while their Haskafah's may have become more palpable, their organizational ability and competence will not have. These ten years are crucial. We need people like you, Elliot pushing for reform, BUT we must not underestimate the power we have to change this by manipulating far fewer variables.

    You need an admin help? I am looking for a job :-)

    Anonymous said...

    Why predict trends? Why wait for some majority to appear out of nothing? Instead, organize and fund various small-scale pilot programs to see what works in practice, before attempting any massive overhaul of the system.

    Anonymous said...

    Some good ideas are being bounced around on this thread. Although I would probably opt to continue sending my children to their current Yeshiva programs, I am supportive of more choices when it comes to education.

    For the 5 T's, I believe it would not be too difficult to implement a virtual program (as part of the Lawrence school district)and it would solve a lot of problems. A charter school would be a great as well, but harder to implement and run.

    Anonymous said...

    I would like to say that parents of special needs children face even more financial headaches than the typical parent. Tutors and expensive schools destroy budgets

    Anonymous said...

    Virtual Schools usually cover all Special Ed costs as well.... Did I mention tution is free as well?

    Lion of Zion said...

    sephardi lady:

    that toys r us closed down today. the final sale was 90% off. i thought of you as i watched a lady get the last sand box you wanted. would 90% have made it worth it to shlep to brooklyn?

    Anonymous said...

    Special needs could be something as simple as a late bloomer and a hanahala that does not understand and insists every child read at a certain point. It could be as simple as a child with little zitz fleish that is constantly reprimanded in pre-1-A who goes on to develop psychological problems because of a teacher who does not want to understand the limits of normal.

    An expensive yeshiva education is detrimental to many boys development and the dearth of elligible young men for shiduchim in the litvish world has something to do with the early years.

    Orthonomics said...

    Ari-Don't know how we would have got that sandbox home. .. . but now I'm a bit sad. I'd love a sandbox for the kids.

    Regarding Special Education: It is extremely cost prohibitive and I think it is probably necessary to find a solution for this small piece or the puzzle.

    Thanks for the comments. I need to find time for another post.