Wednesday, June 22, 2011

School Change

While we in Klal continue to debate the high price of a yeshiva education, others here in the US frame that education debate in other terms: should the US be on a year round educational calendar.

Our standard calendar--September through June--is traditionally thought of as having been put into place when our country was a more agrarian one. Children were needed as help during the productive growing months. There is a flaw with this, however; huge swathes of our population lived in cities, in urban environments, and there wasn't any farming going on in those areas. So why did we have the long summer vacation from school?

Frederick Hess, in a article, gives some reasons. "Summer vacation once made good sense -- back when we lived in a brawn-based economy, academic achievement
mattered less, an absence of air conditioning or modern hygiene turned crowded schools into health risks, and children had moms who were home every day.

Historian Kenneth Gold has noted that summer vacation, as we know it, was an invention of the mid-19th-century belief that "too much schooling impaired a child's and a teacher's health." Community leaders fretted that summer was a "period of epidemics, and most fruitful of diseases generally," and sought to keep children at home or send them to
the countryside.

In that era, the nation's first professional educators believed that too much schooling would exhaust both teacher and student. They thought that placid summers under parental supervision would be more beneficial than time spent in humid, crowded schools. "

At present there are some two million students across 46 states that are on a YRE program--year round education. This represents about 5% of all K-12 students in the US. To my knowledge, with the exception of yeshivas of higher education (batei medrash and kollelim), there is no yeshiva that is on the YRE system. So, would there be an advantage for parents if yeshivas went to a YRE system?

First, let's look at the cost. For families where both parents work some type of summer program is a necessity, not a luxury. Someone has to have the care of those children when the parents are not home. For some parents this translates into day camp plus a care provider in the home until the parents return--cost of camp plus the cost of after camp provider. For other parents this translates into sleep away camp. The cost of day camp is highly variable; the cost of sleep away camp pretty much falls into the $3-4K range.

Now look at yeshiva school tuitions. The cost of tuition falls into the range of $10-15K per child per year, with outliers on either end. Using the $15K figure, this is $1500 per month of the 10-month school calendar year. Go to YRE and you would add $3K for the additional two months of school. That $3K is pretty much the cost of either the day camp/home provider expense or the sleep away camp expense. In other words, that YRE calendar should not really cost more than it already costs working parents who must provide childcare during the summer months, whether at some type of camp or in-home.

On the negative side, older high school children in YRE would lose the chance to make money over the summer by working in summer camps or at other jobs. In addition, those parents whose children go to summer camp now would find their summer budgets having to expand to include the cost of food for children who would now be home, for entertainment expenses when not in school, for added electricity expenses for running air conditioning in bedrooms that would be occupied for over the summer, adding back in laundry expenses that aren't there when kids are in camp etc..

There's also this: Some families do not have working mothers, and children, particularly young children, are cared for at home by the mother, with no camp being used, either by choice or by not being able to afford camps. Some parents simply cannot meet the costs of a yeshiva education as it is formulated right now. Add $3K more to the bill for YRE and you might be providing the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back--you will be pricing these parents completely out of providing a yeshiva education. The only way such parents could hope to send their children to yeshiva would be with a hefty tuition reduction. And just where would yeshivas get the additional monies needed to provide such tuition reductions? They are in trouble now, with only a 10-month schedule, in trying to make up the deficit created by numerous parents on scholarships (in addition to poor management, excessive spending etc.).

YRE comes up every year in virtually every state. Slowly many municipalities are adding YRE schools. In addition, a high percentage of schools on YRE are charter or private schools. Many whose job it is to forecast such trends believe that YRE is where our educational system has to be heading. Would there be any benefit to Klal in adding discussion of YRE? Would YRE offer any pluses to yeshiva parents or would there be more minuses? And if YRE is where education is heading in this country then what changes are going to have to be made to the tuition structure to allow yeshiva parents to be able to pay for this education?


Abba's Rantings said...


"the cost of sleep away camp pretty much falls into the $3-4K range."

you need to double that figure (don't know about RW camps). dora golding is the cheapest at about 3700-4000

but it's pretty much an outlier. otherwise you;re lookiing at 6-8k, realistically closer to 8

e.g. moshava IO is 6k

morasha is 7-8k

lavi is 7500-8500

with seneca lake topping out at 8700

and of course these rates don't include the extras--mainly i;m thinking about a few hundred for tips and canteen fees (moshava does not permit tips)

Abba's Rantings said...


1) "The cost of tuition falls into the range of $10-15K per child per year"

again, at least for MO schools you're underestimating, drastically so if you factor in high school

2) "At present there are some two million students across 46 states that are on a YRE program--year round education."

i would guess that a relatively large percentage of this number are kids in special ed and remedial programs? (in NYC, for example, district 75, which is the citywide special ed program, is 12 months)

3) i have mixed feelings about 12-month program. on the one hand i don't think our kids are being academically prepared enough to compete in a global marketplace. on other hand

a) our kids are fat and lazy enough as it is, and now we take away from the summer when they are most likely to be physically active?

b) kids need downtime as well. let them be kids and have some fun. and they need to learn to navigate the "real world" outside of school too.

c) as far as my concern about kids not being prepared academically with current 10-month programs, perhaps we should first tweek and improve existing schools before rushing to extend them

Abba's Rantings said...

"And if YRE is where education is heading in this country"

one more point, i doubt YRE will take off if just for financial reasons. not just yeshivah parents, but public school districts also have to come up with the $ to pay for YRE. but in the meantime they are cutting back on spending, laying off teachers, etc. you might see YRE in private/charter schools (as mentioned in the post), but in public schools other than special/remedial ed?

ProfK said...

Just a note here: YRE does not necessarily mean that the months of July and August suddenly become full school months. A YRE calendar spreads schooling out across the year with breaks in between schooling sessions, although not as long as our current summer break is. A common model is 9-12 weeks of classes followed by 3-4 weeks of intersession. Most of the schools following YRE offer programs during the intersession for enrichment or just plain fun.

Why YRE? A huge number of definitive studies have shown that students with shorter breaks between schooling sessions retain what they have learned better than when they have a very long break. Less time in the classroom has to be spent on review of past material. In short, a better education.

And Abba, these types of schools in the public sector are not limited to remedial ed. In California 1 in 5 public schools in the state is on YRE with more being added each year, particularly on the elementary school, middle school levels. The state shows that attendance, scores on standardized tests and general attainment of knowledge has gone up in those schools on YRE.

Abba's Rantings said...

" A YRE calendar spreads schooling out across the year with breaks in between schooling sessions"

so then it shouldn't be expensive?

i think this schedule would drive some parents crazy.

Miami Al said...

The advantage to YRE is that even with the same number of school days, the higher retention means that more is learned. Some studies have shown that students lose on average a month of education over summer break, so 11% of the year is wasted bringing the students back. There is definitely some appeal to children getting a series of long breaks, 3 long breaks during the year could be 3 family vacations, etc.

The drawback to YRE: students that need to work and/or support family businesses have a harder time. There has always been a lot of summer time seasonal employment. Unless you make one of the breaks Thanksgiving - Christmas (when stores need a lot of temporary help), that cuts out a lot of that possibility.

The biggest issue with YRE is the transition. I remember when Florida was trying to shift it's schedule around to start/end the year later (our seasonal pattern is such that September is still brutally hot, and early June isn't, so there would be some savings by shifting the start date into September) was that parents went crazy because of summer planning.

Anyone whose children went away to camp, got jobs as camp counselors, stayed with family "up north" etc., went nuts that if we were off schedule by a month, you couldn't do that.

The fact is it is VERY hard to be on a different schedule. You don't even notice it in the Yeshiva system (and perhaps in NY you have enough critical mass), but here, the Day School working moms go NUTS. There is no childcare during the random Yeshiva week and the 2 weeks for Sukkot/Pesach, etc. In the public school system, there is a standardized schedule, and there are tons of Winter Break/Spring Break camp options, where the kids go and have fun for those weeks.

Basically, anyone who steps forward and moves to YRE leaves the parents with a difficult schedule.

I think that the country could probably benefit from an extra 10-20 school days, and the long summer break isn't as necessary with air conditioning... I can't imagine that today's parents have anything but fake nostalgia for long lazy summers, they were either over-programmed children of privilege or in day care-style camps so mom could work... nobody thinks about "summers down by the lake" unless they are in Nashville writing a country song.

Tuvi said...

The idea of a better education and more retention appeals but for yeshivas this type of scheduling is going to be extra hard. Our Jewish calendar doesn't come out the same every year. Trying to schedule around when yom tov is would be different every year. Even a break during a small part of the summer would depend on when the 3 weeks/9days and Tisha B'Av come out. Nothing much for the kids and families to do if a school break comes out during this time.

tesyaa said...

Many yeshivas no longer spread tuition over 10 months; rather they spread the same tuition payments over 11 or even 12 months. It's a smaller check each month, and may give some (fairly clueless) parents the illusion that they are not paying as much. Anyway, if YRE means the same number of school days, it shouldn't be more expensive than the current schedule. So many parents are paying year round already.

Al, I have noticed that even the non-working mothers go nuts when there is an extended break. I don't think YRE would be very popular if it means mothers have to spend more time with their kids.

Tamar said...

Wish the school systems would understand that working parents need a more normal school schedule. Sure I'd like my kids to get a better education. 12+ weeks of vacation divided out during the year is a disaster for working parents. Hard enough to make care arrangements when it's for one long period of time. A week here and there would make it impossible.

JS said...

In terms of the general idea of YRE, I fully support it if it also means more school days. There are myriad factors for why America lags in educations, but certainly this couldn't hurt and is very likely to help. Our higher education institutes are the envy of the world, but our elementary and high schools leave so much to be desired. I recall conversations in university with foreign transfer students where they told me what the education system was like in their countries. It's literally night and day. I wouldn't say everything they do sounded appealing (e.g., intense pressure for series of exams that basically determine your whole future), but there is no question they come away with a lot more knowledge and skills than Americans entering college. This is definitely a threat to America's prosperity in years to come.

In terms of yeshivas, I think it would be a great idea as well. But, I don't think it will ever get off the ground. Way too many interested parties. Think of all the camps that would go out of business, the rabbis/teachers who couldn't get second jobs (which would likely pay more than the yeshivas would 2 extra months), and the schools who would need to give out more scholarships. The last point is really a joke since I don't know if any families that don't also send to expensive camps. It's a complete side point, but it is pure insanity to my mind that camps and schools are viewed as being on equal playing fields - that parents' money is allowed to be split between the two (the yeshiva gives a scholarship knowing the parents have money, but it is going to camps). There was even a recent article from the head of NCSY (I think) that camps are essential for promoting Yiddishkeit and are perhaps more important than the schools. So, good luck fighting that lobby. Most of my friends were going to summer camps till right before their year in Israel (which is pure insanity to me, I started working summers when I was 13). Frum Jews live in this complete fantasy world compared to the rest of society. Forget about private school for all for $15+k for K-8. Who else sends kids away for camp for $6k+? Pure insanity. For 2 months many families pay around 50-75% of what they paid for 10 months of school. Shows you where our priorities are.

We need to figure out where our priorities are. If camp keeps kids frum, then lets allocate the money there. If it's the education, then allocate the money to the yeshivas. But, it's complete insanity to put the two on the same level say that parents need to come up with $25k+ per K-8 child and then just offer scholarships to everyone that can't afford that.

Back to the school issue. I think I would have been much happier with 10 weeks on, 1 week off or whatever than constantly counting down the days for the various breaks. Beyond that, I'm not so convinced the schools do all that much teaching as is. Yeshiva seems to be more about the environment than imparting any specific knowledge. This is why camps are so valued - the environment is supposedly even better than school. So, while it's more cost-effective and you could learn a lot more with a YRE program, I don't see any frum Jews going for it.

Dave said...

It's also worth noting that YRE is actually cheaper for large public school districts.

There are multiple "tracks" of YRE classes, and therefore not all the students are in class at the same time (they are staggered), which means a need for fewer teachers and fewer buildings.

I don't think the Yeshivas are big enough to take advantage of this.

Orthonomics said...

YRE shouldn't be more expensive because the number of school days are the same.

Potentially, using a YRE schedule, smaller schools could share facilities with only some overlap. But that is probably a pipe dream.

Scraps said...

Having taught students who are struggling academically, I would love to see YRE implemented. The higher knowledge retention rate alone would be worth it. I don't know if/when it will ever happen, though.