I have just met a parent from a two-professional couple. They are Modern Orthodox with 3 kids. As our discussion progressed, I learned that 2 of the three kids are now in public school and they’re not thrilled with the 3rd child remaining in their (Orthodox) Jewish day school.

Key reasons?

1. Quality of general education, especially secular education.
2. Mediocrity of Judaic instruction.
3. Cost, cost and cost.

These are highly educated people who make a decent amount of money but live in a large urban market (yes, the two often go hand in hand), and they are simply pushed to their financial limits. Right now they’re extremely worried about being able to afford college for their kids.

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themiddle

36 Comments

  • T_M, you write as if you think (or anyone thinks) that “college” is going to be as important a thing for our kids to attend as it was for us or our parents … let’s face it, the higher-education system won’t even exist in twenty years, the “free-market” and “deomcratic” facades of our socio-economic lives having eroded to what we all know is coming — the Golden Age of Transnational Corporate Feudalism, where the rich can afford health care, education, transportation, privacy, and everyone else can go screw themselves, and would you like fries with that? what makes any of us think that we’ll be able to afford college for our kids 20 years from now if we can barely afford health care for ourselves now?

  • CM, in the future, college will be an important means of distinguishing those who will be hired for highly skilled professions vs. those who will not. With today’s job market so glutted with highly skilled applicants, the first screening test is whether someone has a college degree. If there’s no degree on the resume, there’s little chance the rest’ll get read. (Employers also screen based on credit records, ironically).

    Things are just going to get tougher. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that college-educated labor from India and Asia isn’t salivating over the potential for even more outsourcing once the US’s college educated population starts diminishing. The answer is not to rule out higher education. We must find ways of making it affordable.

  • Their choice, I wish them well. The other side is my difficult existence, broken furniture, broken indoor plumbing, no family vacations. but kids that provide me w/ Jewish Nachas.
    It’s a tough choice, one I am facing every day.

  • I’d be interested in knowing whether they live in a spacious home in an expensive suburb, drive newish cars, spend every Pesach in a hotel, spend a fortune making fancy “themed” mishloach manot, serve five-course meals for dinner and lunch every Shabbat, indulge in manicures/pedicures/waxes and a lot of computer technology they don’t really need, take vacations in Disneyland, and have a gardener and a housekeeper.

    If not, then yes, I feel for them.

  • Sarah, they definitely are not spendthrifts in any way. Quite the contrary, my impression in the several hours we had together was that any expense they bore, no matter how small, was a source of concern.

    People, stop living in a dream. Some people are buying BMWs instead of sending their kids to Jewish day school. However, most people who do send their kids and who aren’t independently wealthy, are breaking under the yoke of the burden.

    This family is a good Jewish family trying to do the right thing by their children. They find themselves torn in two ways: mediocrity of the product; debilitating cost.

    And Chazarmaveth, I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I would encourage you to dispel this notion about higher education no longer being around. It will be around and will have a significant impact on who can and cannot survive in this economy and the global economy.

  • They don’t qualify. Middle class and upper middle class don’t qualify for it, and when they do it still takes a huge chunk of income. It always becomes a battle between college, retirement or Jewish day school.

  • Jessica, I saw from your blog that you’re a young college student. Believe me, it really isn’t as simple as you think. The reality is that college financial aid is decreasing at the same time college costs are increasing. Tuition is currently rising at twice the rate of inflation- roughly 5% per year. At that rate, a private university education, currently approximately $30K per year, will cost about $38K in 2010. And that’s just for the first year. Of course, we could set our sights lower. The University of CT is *only* $7500 per year right now for in-state students.

    Financial aid resources are limited and are going to have to be spread more thinly, especially considering how badly the economy’s tanked over the past few years and how many people are seriously hurting. For many, it’s not a question of making do with a part-time homemeaker, staying home for Pesach (some of us have enough trouble trying to budget for our eat-in meals for the holiday, thank you) and taking fewer vacations.

    There is also financial aid for dayschools. As TM mentioned in a previous post, it is calculated by a clearinghouse in the midwest and parents still end up paying a sizeable portion of the total cost. And there’s no work-study option.

    If the education is sub-par, an appropriate question is “why bother?”. It really is a difficult decision. I hate to be the one to bring this up, but I think it’s time for a revolution.

  • Sending Jewish kids to public school is OK. I went to public school for highschool, and I found it very useful. I had never been in a class with girls before, so it was really cool for me. I learned more math and science in the public system. It got me the grades and skills I needed to get into engineering. And let’s not forget, it was free! ๐Ÿ˜›

    However, I also made out with a catholic girl the whole time. So I guess it’s okay in Israel, but elsewhere just make sure the kid has set limits. He/she should get extra schoolwork.

  • When I was in 10th grade my parents finally pulled me out of the Jewish high school I was attending. It was a combined decision that had something to do with cost, but more to do with the quality of the secular education there and the availability of Jewish educational alternatives.

    Jewish schools are able to sell themselves largely on the basis of their religious characteristics, but the educational imperative often takes a distant second. The existance of the Jewish day school is predicated on the valid assumption that a complete educational experience necessarily combines Judaic and secular knowledge, and that that combination is best served under the same roof. I believe this. In the bad old days, the boys would go to cheder and the girls would go to public school and the predictable result was a situation that made nobody happy. So Jewish day schools can work well, in practice as in theory, as long as religious and secular knowledge are equally well-served.

    But it can happen that they aren’t. In my own situation, for a host of reasons, the Judaic and secular education was absolutely terrible. The school was selling itself solely on the basis of its Judaism, and on the assumption that whatever its drawbacks, it was a priori better than public school, which was obviously full of sex and drugs and mixed dancing. My parents were forced to question whether Jewish day schools are neccesarily better than public schools merely by virtue of being Jewish. What they found was that a) they could supply a Jewish education for me in the form of a tutor, who, even coming every day for several hours, was thousands of dollars cheaper than the high school; and b) that extremely high quality secular education is easily found in the public school system, in my case with the International Baccalaureate Program. I still spent a year after high school in a yeshiva in Jerusalem.

    My point is, Jewish day schools offer a solution, not neccessarily the solution. If parents are unhappy, then other options do exist.

  • Aaron, I think what you write is valuable. What concerns me is that you cannot have the same sense of community; that of being surrounded by a world of Jewish children, when you are being taught by a tutor in a solitary manner.

  • Esther, do you still have that link to the article you posted in the other education discussion. You know, the one about the exorbitant cost for average households, and the impact upon them?

    Daniel, by high school, you’re bankrupt and your kid has received an average education.

  • “(Higher education) will be around (20 years from now) and will have a significant impact on who can and cannot survive in this economy and the global economy.”

    I think you’re right — those who can afford it, i.e. the wealthy, will continue to survive. Those who cannot, i.e. those of us belonging to the vanishing, extinct-within-20-years “middle-class,” will not. Call me apocalyptic, Marxist or what have you — I think Conserva-Girl’s stats about “college financial aid is decreasing at the same time college costs are increasing” do my talkin’ for me.

  • I think a tug of war breaks out when the jewish high school is mediocre compared to its non-jewish competition. Sometimes, and speaking from my own experience, you have to choose between a sheltered, homogenous Jewish community OR a kick ass college prep education. My english and math classes were pitiful, we had no computer instruction or sex education. But I appreciate the fact that I can open up almost any religious, Hebrew manuscript and not feel lost.

    I got into NYU but go to UCSB because it was closer to home (LA) and cheaper-my dad said well do that for grad school. it looks like the rising cost of religious day/high school is making the choice i mentioned above easier, or maybe harder to make. but when you have a double-whammy of expensive day school, high school, college, and sometimes grad school, jesus, youre really stuck.

    thank god i got no kids right now and don’t have to make that choice.

  • I have been thinking more and more about the homeschool option that was raised in the previous thread. Great strides have been made in the technology of distance learning, as well.

    How about some possible hybrid scenarios:

    1) Synagogue-sponsored homeschool “hub”. Not all the burden is on the parents, but the shul does not have all the expenses of seting up and running a school.

    There would be a mix of home-based distance learning, and on-site activities in existing school facilities. Many shuls with existing social halls/other secondary space could accommodate many grades with one multi-purpose space. Kids meet up several times a week, including Shabbat.

    If the distance/home learning stuff were implemented regionally, it would provide a cost-effective alternative to smaller Jewish communities. A handful of parents and clergy could host/coach the kids locally, perhaps on a round-robin basis that is not so great an imposition. Jewish identity would be reinforced by the local study group and periodic get-togethers similar to NCSY or USY regional events.

    2) Same hybrid as above, but drawing on/contracting out some of the secular studies to local charter or public schools. It may even be possible to rent facilities for distance learning – saving the costs of building a school.

    This could be everything from an “after school talmud torah” model to a fusion version of the MO day school’s long schoolday.

    3) JEWS WAKE UP, cross political lines, and joint those agitating for charter schools and vouchers, so the tax money they are paying can go to their kids’ education, as it should.

    Let’s get creative.

  • Very cool, Ben-David! When you are constructing this program, which will be your ticket to fame with a grant from a big Jewish organization, don’t forget the parent piece. There has to be a tandem learning experience touching the parents, perhaps one Sunday a month at the shul hub (great word), with brunch, speaker, lectures. The children can’t be more Jewishly committed than their own parents. If the parents are ignorant or not excited or committed, the dissonance gets hard on the children. The fee could be reduced by twenty percent for parents who attend on these Hub Sundays.

  • THREE-QUARTERS of American Jewish households HAVE NO CHILDREN in them!

    (I just read the current issue of “Contact”, magazine, from Jewish Life Network. In a piece by a single Jewish mother – I don’t approve of this -she quotes the recent population survey: ONLY 26 PERCENT OF AMERICAN JEWISH HO– USEHOLDS HAVE CHILDREN RESIDING IN THEM. The rest are children-rein. We have been spayed!)

    Maybe this is G-d’s way of getting rid of non-Orthodox Judaisms? I can’t stand by silently, however, He should excuse me.

    Jewlicious to the rescue!!!

  • We should have “Marry Your Girlfriend Day” every year. On Valentine’s Day? Full page ads in every major newspaper. On Lag B’Omer?

  • I also went to a state school…back then, Rutgers (including housing) was about 5-7K; my preference, Barnard (Double Degree with JTS), started at $20K. And never did I regret the education I got at Rutgers. I envied my JTS friends their Shabbat community, but did just fine on my own at “secular” college.

    And “Marry Your Girlfriend Day” should definitely be on Tu B’Av. Or Purim, after everyone’s had a few drinks.

  • Ben David, your hub idea is interesting. What happens if you gather 10 motivated children, put them together with a good teacher and let them meet twice a week. Yes, you can use a synagogue room. And yes, it could be more intensive than “Sunday school.” You thereby combine community and Judaism and can add it comfortably to a secular public school education.

    Also, you can forget the participation of rabbis or other leaders within the synagogue, it simply won’t happen. If anything, they might be concerned that you represent competition to their school.

  • If the parents are all synagogue members, how could the synagogue possibly charge for use of the room? Access to this Hub After-School Program is a benefit of membership. The insurance is already in place on the building. So, that just leaves the teacher’s salary and books to charge for.

  • Does Partners-In-Torah have a little-kid division? That is distance learning. Conference call with many kids?

  • Want? Maybe they won’t get. Get some interested parents together who are all members of the synagogue and they will say, “of COURSE this UN– USED room can be used – by members only. It is our room. Access to the program could attract NEW members!” You need a sympathetic synagogue administrator: a poor one with children. Or, one made poor by high tuitions. “Nobody is against Day Schools, there just need to be some other options, because of the costs, and also because some children have different learning styles, and benefit from a more intimate Cheder Hub setting, with more flexibility in communicating this material. Chavrusa pairing has worked for millenia. “

  • The Jewish Hub Learning Program should be positioned as “enrichment”. Even so, the competition thing will be tough.

    Maybe some Day School families would use it occasionally too, who knows, before exams.

    It might be useful to read up on Homeschooling in general, just as background. It is so very outside-the-box in its thinking, very creative.

    Families who need a break from $12,000 a year can still probably pay 2 or 3 or 4 thousand a year.

    Two-job couples need after-school child care that picks up the child from the public school, and escorts him to a facility or room, where he can be picked up by a parent at 5:30 or 6 pm. Four or five days, depending on Shabbos arrangements. There are probably such programs operating already, but they need a Jewish learning element to serve here; maybe that could be injected into them by a pulpit-less rabbi who visited daily to teach the Jewish kids.

    You are founding a Kids’ Beit Midrash.

    Maybe there really should be pairing of little learners, just like the adults, in addition to instruction.

    Is there a curriculum or syllabus? Have you a list of what they are supposed to learn?

    There is a lot of children’s Jewish educational material, books, games, alef-bets, available from Eichler’s, Levine’s, and other Judaica sources.

    I think you will have plenty of kids. You are not alone in your experience!

    You charge a little higher, so you can give a discount to families with less means who have a desirable, smart, enthusiastic kid whose presence will help the program.

    There are grants around. If you have a good idea there are people to ask for grants, as I am sure you know. Maybe it is time for a working lunch with one or two other families, at your house. Set a pattern of home-hosting right away.

  • I’ve posted in this area before, but just on the idea of a home-school/synagogue combined learning approach:

    In Sydney there’s a “Board of Jewish Education”. It’s been around for decades, since before Sydney had any jewish schools. It serves to supplement the education jewish students receive in public schools.
    It provides teachers to go to all public schools in the city that have any jewish students (even 1 in the whole school) and give them “scripture” classes in judaism. Basics like shabbat, festivals, hebrew, jewish history. Half an hour- 1 hour at a time. That’s the most basic thing.

    It also provides extra curricular classes, either in its own building or at the school the child attends, in Hebrew, Jewish History, Jewish culture, etc. From Kindergarten to high school.

    In addition, it runs its own classes of “Classical Hebrew” and “Modern Hebrew” which are courses for the High School Certificate program (Grades 11 & 12 exams and assessment whcib result in the student receiving a ranking number that gives her/him access to University degrees eg 99.7 for Law).

    I was a public high school student with previous education at a private jewish school. I did Classical Hebrew for the HSC – it encompassed several books of the Tanach, Mishan, Gemara, and grammar studies at a beyond university level. The BJE was absolutely fantastic – I did better than most students at the private jewish schools doign the same course.

  • I think there are 2 basic approaches:

    1) Self-directed, computer-based curriculum: for example, my son (in an esteemed Israeli Yeshiva high school) is being force-fed Jewish history in a stultifying class, where the teacher just copies the text onto the board. I have seen excellent multimedia CDs for general history that are used by homeschoolers – much more engaging and just as in-depth.

    2) Distance learning: this networks together kids that may not even be in the same communities.

    The technology has been perfected, and any kid who has mastered online chat can do it. Both live interaction (for frontal teaching) and general administrative stuff (homework, exams and projects, discussion forum) are supported.

    This can be used in several ways. A central hub (say Chicago) could organize a full Judaic studies curriculum for outlying areas.

    OR they can organize a SECULAR studies curriculum that gets picked up by several day schools, reducing costs and solving quality issues. This would allow all those new little Kollels out there to offer a day school/after school program.

    Cost: It will cost FAR LESS to implement these programs than to build, maintain, and staff a conventional a day school.

    Audience: these solutions can scale down to even one kid on a home PC, and connect him/her with other Jewish kids and knowledgable rabbis.

    Flexibility: carefully designed progamming can be modular, and can accommodate a range of “customers” – those who just want an after-school enrichment, or those who want a real day-school experience – and a wide range of knowledge level.

    I agree that parental involvement is essential.

  • SO MUCH has been done by the Xtians and other home schoolers – there is a lot that can be learned from their experience.

    Jews are the ultimate “small target market”. We now have cost-effective tools to communicate effectively and create online communities.

  • The Sydney Board of Jewish Ed sounds like just what is needed in the US. Fabulous!

    If the people on this thread pull together they can change the world.

    I hope all these extremely useful posts are being backed up and preserved so that these proposals can evolve and mature into action. A lot is at stake!

  • While all of these solutions are interesting and may provide an outlet to those who cannot afford or find quality Jewish day schools, they are not ideal answers.

    The ideal answer is simple: top quality education at an affordable price in a Jewish day school environment.

    I know this can be done. It is already being done successfully in some markets. Somebody needs to take the bull by the horns, create the needed foundation and start raising the funds. Meanwhile, principals need to focus heavily on improving the quality of their teachers, teaching and overall programming.

  • The UJC has a Hebrew language program, community based across institutional lines, called Hebrew in America. It is for children, I think.

  • I am heartened to see this discussion, however small a group who is involved. My husband and I sent four of our five children through our community’s dayschool (K-8) and our fifth, currently finishing fifth grade, may not be able to finish due to the cost. Our health insurance premiums and co-pays eat up $2000 a month and the tuition review committee insists we pay the full $9000+ a year. I am sad but resigned.

  • Ruchel, we started small and we’re growing all the time. We actually generate quite a bit of traffic for a site that doesn’t do any promotion. So be patient, people will listen.

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