Thursday, May 7, 2009

So, What Have We Got?

Sometimes, when you are trying to puzzle out a problem, it helps to make a list of everything you know, so you can see things in black and white. Here's one such list as regards educating frum kids.

What Do We Have In Place Right Now?
1. Day Schools--coed
2. Yeshivas--separate sex
3. Talmud Torahs--only a very few under frum auspices

What Are The Complaints About the Present System?
1. Tuition is very expensive in the day schools and yeshivas.
2. The school day is overly long.
3. School is six days a week.
4. Schools dictate to parents about things outside of school.
5. Schools are not transparent about how their monies are allocated.
6. School calendars do not take working parents' schedules into consideration.
7. Schools give too many scholarships to some students, raising the amount of tuition that needs to be paid by the rest of the students.
8. Families with a large number of children cannot afford to pay full tuition/most tuition/any tuition for their children.
9. Schools are top-heavy with administrators and need to cut this staff.
10. Schools do not do a good job of giving the students a secular education.
11. Schools emphasize limudei kodesh studies to the detriment of the secular studies.
12. Teachers are paid too much for the number of hours that they actually work.

What Are the Alternatives Already Presented For the Present System of Education?
1. Charter schools. The government would pay for the cost of the secular education, including the Hebrew language. Any Judaic instruction would have to be handled separately, after the secular school day is finished.
2. Send children to regular public school and handle Judaic studies in an after school program.
3. Home school children, either singly or in cooperative groups, with arrangement of secular and Judaic studies as a parent's choice.
4. Push for a Voucher system, whereby the government gives parents the monies they would spend in educating a child, and let the parents choose any school to use the vouchers in.
5. Create no frills day schools and yeshivas, with no extra curricular activities, no add-ons such as art and gym, no special services for special needs students, no lunch programs.
6. Make the size of classes larger--in the 25-30 students per class range, thus cutting the cost of salaries for instructors.
7. Make the community responsible for the cost of Jewish education. Every member of a community would be levied a charge, whether they have children in the schooling system or not. It would be the community responsibility to see to it that funds are available, not the responsibility of individual parents within a school.

What Are the Problems With the Alternatives Already Presented?
1. Charter Schools: would still require a full program of Judaic studies to be given outside of the school and after school hours. This might make the school day even longer than it is now and/or would require Sunday instruction. Tuition would need to be paid for this Judaic studies program, and we are assuming the cost would be less than the costs in the programs we have now, but we don't really know, since no one has actually done a complete cost analysis and presented the figures to us.
2. Vouchers: as presently envisioned this program is unlikely to pass through the legislature. Some advocates are asking for the full amount of money expended on children in the public schools as the amount of the voucher; others are talking about a slightly smaller amount. Public schools and their advocates will fight to the death to keep all state/federal/city funds for education in the public school system.
3. Home Schooling: when two parents work there is no one home to do the home schooling. Not every parent is capable of or educated enough to teach children. Specialists, such as rebbis/morahs for the Judaic studies portion, would need to be hired, and the cost would be borne by either one parent or a very small group of parents.
4. Making class sizes large brings with it a return of educational problems that were eliminated by making class sizes smaller.
5. No frills yeshivas would create a have/have not division between various groups in Klal. Those without wealth would get the minimum; those with wealth could pay for any programs and add-ons they wanted. This would lead to a two or three tier system within Klal, with some students being better educated, predicated on money available to their parents alone.
6. Placing special needs students, of any kind, outside of the "regular" Judaic instruction model is a huge step backwards. It's a return to the policies that were in place only 30+ years ago. It marginalizes those with any kind of specialized needs. Families with such special needs students, or those people with sensitivity to the differences within Klal are unlikely to support any changes which place their children outside of the mainstream.
7. Some parents are not in favor of any of the alternative forms of education and want the system in place to remain in place, albeit they may want more fiscal responsibility on the parts of the day schools/yeshivas. Such parents would be unlikely to work towards a new system, nor support it, either through their actions or with their money.
8. The more types of Jewish education that are available at one and the same time, the more we split the amount of money that might be available from those who are still able to donate extra funds to support education.
9. Making the community responsible for the costs of Jewish education presupposes that a community speaks with one voice. It assumes that all community members would be willing to support all the venues of Jewish education that may be present in a community. Heck, it even presupposes that there is such a thing as a "community." This might work in a small geographic area, a small town where there is only one or perhaps two schools that would need supporting. It might work out OOT. But is there anyone reading here who seriously can call Brooklyn a community, one that would unite to financially support all the different types of day schools/yeshivas that exist there? Brooklyn, and other parts of NYC as well, is a group of little shtetlach, each with their own interests.

Some Additional Problems Contributing to the Schooling Problem:
1. Family sizes are larger today in large parts of Klal. More children means paying more tuition. Is it within the realm of possibility for two working parents who make $100K between them to pay full tuition for 5 or more children? Is that even possible if they earn $150K? $200K? Is it even possible with only 3 children? How about 8 children?
2. Some schools and programs count on an infusion of money from the grandparents of the students. Those grandparents, Boomers many of them, are an aging population, many retired and many heading there. No, they can't work forever. What happens when the grandparents stop contributing or can't any longer? Any system set in place that counts on funding from a third party to stay viable can--and will--get in trouble.
3. Large numbers of people in Klal are beginning their working lives first in their mid to late twenties--some even later. They are first going to work at the same time that they already have children starting school. Their salaries are not sufficient to meet the schooling financial obligations.
4. Some families are being supported on only one income coming in, an income that cannot be made to stretch across all areas the money is needed for. People have to have someplace to live, clothing to wear, food to eat and money for basic necessities. Add in tuition and you have a situation ripe for credit card abuse and debt spending.
5. There is a conflict for some of having both what you want and what you need. The belief is that you can have both. Sometimes, and for some people, this may be true. For too many others a choice needs to be made, and many are refusing to make that choice.
6. Klal is nowhere near unified in its attitudes towards Jewish education--how much, where, when, at what cost, with what ingredients. Because of this splintering, and because of the partisanship towards one method over other methods--regardless of which method that is--there will not be wholesale change sufficient to make a discernible difference. The push towards affordable tuition may cause Klal to split apart, rather than unify it.
7. And here is the elephant in the room: lots of people recognize there is a problem with our present Jewish educational system, they complain about it, they say a change must be made...and there it ends. Getting changes made is what someone else will do. They will talk about rocking the boat, just don't count on their hands to do so. Back in the 60's and 70's some people would refer to some girls in a rather prost manner: they called them NATO--No Action, Talk Only. Well, that NATO designation has clearly shifted to most of the people in Klal today when it comes to actively working on behalf of change. Vouchers are not going to work, they won't happen? Maybe, and maybe not. We'll never know, because so far any talk about vouchers has been just that--talk. When you get your behinds off the chairs and actively work for vouchers, fight for vouchers, press for vouchers, make a real, sustained effort to get vouchers and then it doesn't happen, then maybe it is time to take vouchers off the table. Until then, vouchers are just as viable an alternative as all the other suggestions that people are willing to put on the table but aren't willing to put their heart and soul into seeing realized.


SubWife said...

Some of your suggestions are not possible. For example increasing the class size. there are strict guidelines for younger student especially as to the ratio of teacher to student. Increasing the class size will decrease salaries b/c the ratio would have to be the same regardless. Also, cutting out lunch programs and art classes and gym is not an option either. School are obligated to provide these to their students by law. They would be shut down by the state if they don't.

ProfK said...

Not necessarily my suggestions posted here. These were taken from what is being said on this topic all around the blog world and outside of it.

Re the class sizes, there are any number of yeshivas whose class sizes are smaller than what the state guidelines suggest. And larger class sizes in the older grades and in high school are not a problem.

Re the items like art and gym etc., private schools are not required to follow all of the mandated programs that public schools do. The only "mandate" as far as the lunch programs go is that those who fall below certain earning lines may qualify for free or subsidized school breakfast/lunch programs. There is no requirement to provide a general lunch program.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post -- very comprehensive.

G6 said...

OK, now you've THOROUGHLY depressed me.

BTW, you received an "honorable mention" last night by Ezzie, when he presented the results of his Jewish Economics Survey.

Dave said...

For all but those with a great deal of wealth, I think it boils down to "large family, private school education, pick one".

leahle said...

Okay, so the alternatives aren't great and the present system isn't great either. So where does that leave us? There's no magical solution, but where should we begin to have at least some change that may take even a little of the burden off parents who just can't make it this way, no matter how much they cut out or cut down?

Miriam said...

Lots of the things on your list that I could see some people deciding to choose instead of the traditional yeshiva system. For me though I want that traditional system. I would guess that a lot of people do too, maybe most of us.

So the answer has to be to push the yeshivas harder. They already are having money problems and are already seeing in some cases their enrollments going down. So now is the time to push for the things we want to see, like the books. Now is the time to tell them that our presence isn't a sure fire thing unless they give us what we want. It's bad economic times all over so why should the yeshivas be exempted from this but maybe with more parent input we can find some places to cut spending that the yeshivas won't do unless they are pushed to do.

Mike S. said...

How about planning ahead to at least have realistic chance of being able to pay all your bills? If you want a large family make sure either that you have started a business that generates enough income to pay the bills, or that both spouses are qualified for professions that pay well enough. Even in this economy, I have had several people turn down 6 figure starting salaries; there are jobs for those with the right qualifications. If you don't want to do that, decide to home school, or have fewer kids, or live in a small dwelling out of town. Or postpone having kids for a few years, live frugally as heck and save up enough to pay future bills. People have plenty of choices to make in life to get their finances in order. No one has a right to demand that the community structure itself to avoid the need for choices. Everyone has to make them in life.

It is not yeshiva tuition that is unsustainable. It is coupling tuition with a bunch of other choices that have become common in the frum world that makes it unsustainable. If our priority is educating out children, we can do it, provided we give up on other areas.

I have little sympathy for those who couldn't be bothered thinking this through, nor for parents who pushed their kids to get married and start a family at 19 and are now complaining that the kids want help paying the grandchildren's tuition.

You do not have to wait for politicians or yeshiva administrators to fix this problem. Make smart choices in your own life and encourage your kids to do the same. I apologize if this is harsh, but I am tired of seeing people who think 10 kids, private school, trips to Israel, $500 dresses, luxury cars, simchas for 500 people at $100/plate houses in expensive neighborhoods with top of the line appliances and furniture and avoiding college are all requirements. Any of those things is fine, but they don't add up if you demand them all.

SubWife said...

Just out of curiosity, Mike S, do you have children?

Mike S. said...

Yes. 4. and I have paid full tuition for all of them.

Rae said...

You are painting an either-or picture MikeS and assuming that many of the people out there have not made good choices and that is why they can't pay the high tuitions. You're assuming 10 kids and $500 outfits and all the rest.

There are many people, a whole lot of people who aren't having 10 kids, don't buy $500 outfits and watch every penny and they still have trouble with paying the tuition. Your statements show that you believe that we don't have a tuition problem but the whole problem is with those who can't pay the tuition because they aren't fiscally responsible. I disagree.

One of my kids said last year that he bought 3 new cars last year--the three tuitions he paid for his kids. And he's going to do that again for next year. What normal person buys 3 new cars every year?The difference is that when you go to buy a car you have all the information in front of you about how much the various things cost. You can comparison shop. The figures are out there for you to look at. The car dealer has an incentive to sell you something because he knows you can go someplace else. Not so with yeshiva tuition. No one knows whether or not what is being charged could be less if the yeshivas practiced the kind of economics you are saying that the rest of us should practice. No $500 outfits for us? How about no $500 "outfits" for the yeshivas?

Trudy said...

Applauds Rae! Everyone blames the parents for making bad choices, even when they aren't. Let the yeshivas open their books and let's see what kinds of choices they are making.

Anonymous said...

Miriam -- I don't understand when you say you want the traditional system yet we should let the yeshivas know our presence is not surefire. Unless you plan to homeschool, your presence is surefire (I guess you could switch to a yeshiva that is 5% cheaper). Most yeshiva parents are a captive audience. Don't you think the schools know that?

Miriam said...

Tesyaa--I guess I wasn't very clear. The yeshivas know that lots of parents are looking at alternative ways to educate their kids. Some already use the existing alternatives. I may not want those alternatives but they are there in the background when I go to speak to the Yeshiva. I don't have to tell the yeshiva that I'm not going to leave--that's part of the bargaining power now. As long as the yeshiva knows that there are alternatives and people are looking for other alternatives they are going to have to be more open when parents want information.

About that 5% cheaper yeshiva. One of our schools is about $18 thousand in tuition. That 5% is $900 per kid that I would be saving. Even for one kid it's a savings. Now times it by 4. I know a lot of things I could use $3600 for.

Mike S. said...

Rae: I did not mean to suggest there was no room for economizing in yeshivas, nor that they shouldn't have more transparent pricing. And I would have them charge the announced tuition to everyone, and run scholarships on a community basis separate from the schools if I were in charge. And I have a good deal of sympathy for your kids, having paid almost $500K in yeshiva and day school tuition so far (not counting what i have paid for college), with one kid still in day school. But I was also willing to drive around in a used car I bought for $400 for a few years (it was a used cab with over 200K miles on it when I bought it) and took 1 vacation (other than staying with family) in the first 20 years of our marriage. We made paying for school a top priority. And the last car I bought was new, but under $10K, (leftover manual tranmission from an urban dealer at the end of the model year) so in my peak tuition year (combining day school and college) I paid the equivalent of 12 of those. But it can be done.

Orthonomics said...

ProfK-The frum community is only one small segment that is interested and has lobbied for vouchers. Most conservative politicians suppport vouchers. Much of the black community supports vouchers (in fact some of them are really mad that the DC voucher program is about to be dismantled). Many other private school parents support vouchers.

But the voucher issue is basically dead in the water. Even in Utah, primarily Republican voters killed the first statewide voucher program that promised vouchers for all, not just those in disadvantaged districts or with low incomes.

Vouchers simply don't have widespread appeal amongst enough in the public, to say nothing of going up against teachers' lobbies and unions.

The news out of Utah was in November 2007, right before the economy took a serious blow. At this point, I really can't imagine vouchers gaining much popularity even amongst more fiscally conservative voters in the current economy. That is just one opinion.

Oh, and the Utah vouchers would have been between $500 to $3000. Read my post here:

Nonetheless, I think the OU, Agudah, etc should keep lobbying for vouchers. But in the meantime, schools are dipping into whatever reserves they have left. . . . . so the clock is ticking.

Rae said...

You're right Mike but what would your total expenditures have looked like if the yeshivas had practiced economic responsibility? If they would have been open with their books and open to suggestions from parents with knowledge and expertise in tweaking a budget? Maybe you would have had more money available to you for savings or other things you needed or wanted. Even if all you would have saved was $25K over the twenty years, that would have been your money to have. What if it was more?

I'm not saying that parents don't need to trim the fat in their spending and sacrifice for their kids' education. But that should be the same for the yeshivas.

Dave said...

It is also worth noting that Vouchers in New York (and a number of other states) would require a State Constitutional Ammendment.

Mike S said...

Rae: Sure. But my kids' schools have been reasonably transparent and are reasonably efficient. And while I could find some fat to trim that might have saved me 5-10%, which I would like to have in my pocket, I have talked about that with other parents and some of what I consider essential, they consider fat and some of what I consider fat (like security guards) they consider important.

And the people arguing that tuition is unsustainable are not looking for 10% reduction; they are looking for factors of 2 or more.

Dave said...

I strongly suspect that what you will find is that transparency is necessary, but not sufficient.