What all of this adds up to are darkening clouds in the day school world, outside of the haredi sectors. On top of all of this there is the tuition crisis, the feeling among day school families that high tuition exacts a toll in living standards and priorities that is too high a price to pay. More and more Modern Orthodox parents are opting out of day school, saying that the cost is too high and that they are not prepared to sacrifice their living standard so that their children may have a day school education.
One apparent side effect of the tuition crisis is its contribution to an increased level of aliyah. This is, of course, good news, yet it is also a dialectical development because it inevitably means a decline in enrollment in many schools, primarily those that serve the Modern Orthodox. This exacerbates, in turn, their financial difficulties.
* * * * *
In short, in the blink of the eye, the day school world has become more complicated, as it is beset by serious issues that demand attention and which may not have any ready remedy. This more complicated reality is now yoked to the tendency I have described of organization building and the instinct to develop projects outside of the school that, it is claimed, will benefit schools struggling to make ends meet. There is an explosion within the day school world of outside organizational activity.
As an inevitable consequence of this, philanthropic funding that is earmarked for day schools ends up supporting activities that occur outside of schools, the claim being that such funding is necessary if day school education is to be improved. It is fascinating that enrollment has slipped within the day school sectors that these funded activities purport to support. Put otherwise, as day school enrollment has gone down among the non-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox, funding for outside projects that purportedly assist schools serving the non-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox has risen dramatically. It is astonishing how little attention is being given to this development.
We are now blessed – I would say the proper description is saddled – by what can rightly be described as an alternate world of Jewish day school education. It is a world of organizations, of experts sitting in offices, of expensive consultants, of conferences in plush settings and much else that costs serious money. I do not know how many tens of millions of dollars are spent on all of this. The number is not small. Whatever the figure, it is climbing at a time when a great number of schools are experiencing enrollment decline and at a time when an even larger number of schools are in financial trouble.
I am not referring here to curriculum development or the training of principals and teachers, although these activities are also enveloped in an excess of hype. There obviously are activities that can benefit day schools and yeshivas that are the proper mission of outside organizations. What is difficult to accept is the long list of expenditures that essentially go toward organizational self-aggrandizement.
Nor is the issue only or primarily financial, as important as this is in the day school world. What the organizational activity does in large measure is to suck interest and oxygen out of the day school world. We are witness to the sad spectacle of people of sincere interest in day school education coming to believe that the alternate world of Jewish day schools is the more critical world, that its activities are more deserving of support than the core education that occurs inside of schools.
There is also the unfortunate tendency of experts who invariably are well paid to heap scorn on those who teach and who have direct responsibility for our schools. This is a cynical approach to Jewish education. Those who teach in our schools deserve our respect, especially because so many are badly underpaid and, despite this, they make an extra effort to do a good job. If there are individuals in the alternate Jewish day school world who do not have the decency to show respect, may we at least hope they would not heap scorn on those who devote their lives to Jewish education?
About the Author: Dr. Marvin Schick has been actively engaged in Jewish communal life for more than sixty years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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