Jewish Day School: Is It Right for Your Family?

Have you been wondering whether a Jewish day school is right for your family?

There’s a lot to consider — even beyond the religious and economic factors. Read on for information and questions that may help guide you in making this important decision about your child’s education.

What is a Jewish day school?

A Jewish day school is a full-time, private school (most educate children from kindergarten through eighth grade) whose curriculum includes both secular and Jewish subjects, traditional academics, and enrichment offerings.

What is taught at Jewish day schools?

Jewish day schools offer traditional courses in math, science, and the humanities, along with additional classes in the Hebrew language, Jewish history, and Jewish culture.

Since private schools are not subject to the same local and state regulations as public schools, they are free to provide instruction in different subject areas, many of which are specialized and specific.

How prominent is religious instruction at Jewish day schools?

At most Jewish day schools, the community gathers daily for t’fillah (worship), and students often recite prayers before and after meals. There will also be times throughout the school day when other prayers may be appropriate, such as just before initiating the study of Torah. Most students enroll in Hebrew language classes and other courses that cover Jewish history and philosophy.

Keep in mind that a strong draw for many parents who decide to send their children to such schools is values-based instruction. Expectations for behavior are taught through a religious and ethical lens that public schools must avoid. Many Jewish day schools emphasize practices of accountability, hospitality, humility, and gratitude, and actively encourage students to provide care for the sick and elderly.

Can non-Jews attend Jewish day schools?

This is a thorny and complicated issue. Many of these institutions see their purpose, in the words of Forward journalist Elicia Brown as “... educating the next crop of Jewish leaders in order to reverse the tide of assimilation. By bringing non-Jews into the mix, they might be hindering their own cause.”

Brown explains there is a concern among administrators that by admitting large numbers of non-Jews, they may be diluting the “Jewishness” of these schools. The point remains, however, that many such schools (mostly pluralistic ones — more on that later) do accept any qualified students, and some even offer financial aid packages to families from different cultural and religious backgrounds.

Will the school’s instruction follow state educational standards?

Private schools that do not receive federal funding are not required to meet the Common Core State Standards, nor must they implement standardized testing or other accountability measures. Many still do, however, in an effort to stay competitive with other schools and to demonstrate that the outcomes associated with this particular instructional approach are successful.

What are the academic outcomes associated with Jewish day schools?

Since many Jewish day schools end after eighth grade, this is a difficult question to answer. That said, a 2007 study from Brandeis University of just over 3,300 students revealed that day school alumni had no significant differences from peers at public and non-Jewish private schools when it came to college GPA, chosen major, or academic confidence. In fact, non-Orthodox Jewish students with at least six years of day-school education claimed the highest rates of academic confidence of any young adults surveyed. Also, as one might expect, kids who went to such day schools boasted the deepest knowledge of and closest connection to Judaism, Jewish culture, and the Hebrew language.

One noteworthy negative outcome of this study related to STEM education. These researchers found that day school alumni from Orthodox backgrounds reported the lowest levels of confidence in science and math fields (including computer science) at the college level.

How do you get into a Jewish day school?

Most schools have an application process and, for some, an entrance examination. Due to small class sizes at many Jewish day schools, admissions can be quite competitive, and some applicants may be waitlisted. It’s a good idea to start planning early by looking for specific application information on individual schools’ websites.

What is the role of technology in a Jewish day school?

Many Jewish day schools — like other private schools – integrate technology into their curricula, and such tools may (depending upon a school’s operating budget and teacher training) include smartboards, projectors, cameras, or digital tablets.

What athletic and extracurricular opportunities will Jewish day schools provide?

Offerings vary widely from school to school, but generally Jewish day schools provide many of the same opportunities as their comparably-sized secular counterparts. Many parents want their kids to be involved in afterschool activities, so extracurriculars provide a way for Jewish day schools both to recruit new students and to remain competitive with other schools.

What financial aid is available?

This depends largely on the individual school. Many Jewish day schools offer financial aid packages, but the average tuition for grades K–12 is high: $15,000 per year. By comparison, the average U.S. Catholic school tuition is $3,383, according to the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA). Indeed, the high cost of Jewish day school education is often cited as a particular challenge for middle-class families.

Do these schools provide transportation?

As with other private schools, Jewish day schools are not obligated to provide transportation to their students, though some do. This is worth bearing in mind, especially if you’re considering a school that isn’t close to your home.

What special education services do Jewish day schools provide?

Private schools are not always required to provide the same special education services that public school are, nor are day school administrators and teachers necessarily trained to identify disabilities in students. While some of these institutions provide supports, many have less experience with special needs — especially in severe cases — than their public-school counterparts. As the Brandeis researchers found, secular private school alumni rated their school’s “ability to respond to individual learning needs” much higher than did day-school grads. This holds true both for students who are “academically gifted and those who need additional or specialized educational supports.”

There are, of course, exceptions as some Jewish day schools are specifically designed with kids with disabilities in mind, such as The Shefa School.

How do I find the right Jewish day school for my child?

Speak to representatives within your Jewish community, at your local Jewish Community Center (JCC), your local preschool, or your Jewish Federation chapter. You can also talk to the staff at your synagogue to request recommendations.

Other parents can be a great resource, too. Ask them how they feel about the schools you’re considering. If you are already in touch with a school, the staff may be able to introduce you to parents who are willing to talk about their experiences. You can also use the Noodle search to find school data and ask questions.

Something worth pointing out is that there is a tremendous variability among Jewish day schools. Most are affiliated with a particular branch of Judaism, including Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform while other schools are pluralistic and educate kids with ties to various branches of Judaism together.

Should I send my child to a Jewish day school?

Families that choose to send kids to Jewish day schools demonstrate a commitment both to the religion itself and to many of its principles. A 2013 Pew report found that about 23 percent of American Jews attended either a Jewish day school or a yeshiva (Jewish institutions of secondary or higher education).

The best way to know whether a school is right for your family is to visit. This will give you an opportunity to meet the administrators and teachers, get a feel for the facilities, and experience the atmosphere and community. Chances are that you will know pretty quickly whether this is a place where your child and family will thrive.

Noodle seeks to help you make better decisions about your education. Check out the schools near you or get expert advice about choosing the best school for you.