Day School Numbers Not So Bad
by Jack Wertheimer
The Avi Chai Foundation’s newly released data on current day school enrollments has drawn attention from many …
The mere existence of the data is worthy of comment, as is the identity of the data compiler. Thanks to Marvin Schick’s yeoman’s efforts over the past 13 years, we possess detailed information on trends in day school enrollment. The same cannot be said about participation rates in any other form of Jewish activity, except summer camps, for which we have only partial information. We lack regularly published data on national trends in synagogue and organizational membership, supplementary schooling, trips to Israel and other forms of Jewish engagement. Why, one wonders, does a Jewish community that prides itself on its respect for knowledge continue to make policies based on such a profound absence of data about its most basic activities?
As a result of this data vacuum, we have only limited knowledge about how patterns in day school enrollments compare with participation in other areas of Jewish life – all the more reason to approach these data with caution….
Since Schick began his census reports in the 1998 to ’99 school year, non-Orthodox day schools have suffered a decline of 5% to 6%. It’s lamentable but not surprising – perhaps even impressive – in light of the deep recession and the decline in Jewish affiliation more generally. In these hard economic times and in light of the long-term trend toward disaffiliation, most synagogues, national organizations and federations wish they were merely “stuck in neutral,” to quote the headline of Goldberg’s column. And in comparison with plummeting Catholic parochial school enrollments and the declining share of students in all American non-sectarian private schools over the past 15 years, non-Orthodox enrollment figures in day schools look healthy.
The more meaningful questions for the community, though, are what difference the day schools and their graduates are making in Jewish life and whether that difference justifies renewed efforts to expand day school recruitment.