In the 2020-2021 school year, as many schools across North America were closed due to the pandemic, Jewish day schools worked hard to offer fully or partially in-person learning for students. Being independent entities gave our schools a nimbleness that many other school systems didn’t have during this time.
The Covid-19 pandemic had a positive result on Jewish day school and yeshiva enrollment. In a Prizmah pulse survey conducted in November 2020, 62% of schools reported an increase in enrollment from the previous year; on average, 31% of new students transferred from public schools. The enrollment increases were largely in community, Reform and Schechter schools. The last Jewish day school census reported a 9% enrollment decrease in these schools from 2013-2018. Given these trends, we sought to understand the experiences of parents who transferred their children into a Jewish day school from a public school or other private school during the 2020-2021 school year so that school leaders fieldwide can glean learnings and insights.
With generous funding from JCRIF, Prizmah hired Rosov Consulting to conduct interviews with parents who transferred their child(ren) into Jewish day school during the pandemic. Prior to this study, little was previously known about families who chose not to send their offspring to a Jewish day school.
The study focused on the following questions:
- Why did people whose children have now transferred to Jewish day school previously send their children to a non-Jewish school? What did those parents think of Jewish day school before that led them not to enroll their children?
- Why did Jewish day school become an option for these families? In what ways did families become aware of this option? What were parents looking for in their child’s school when they switched, besides that the school was open?
- What have parents liked most about the schools they have joined, and what have they missed compared to the schools their children previously attended? How likely are these transfer families to keep their children in Jewish day schools, and what would it take to keep them there?
This article is going to focus on the first of these three questions.
Twenty-four schools were represented in the study, and 114 interviews were conducted. The study found that parents who had previously opted not to send to a Jewish day school did so because of cost, logistics and values.
Parents who cited cost felt they were already paying for public school through their high taxes and weren’t prepared to pay for private schools in addition. Some parents had been concerned that they would have to sacrifice other investments if they paid Jewish day school tuition. Others perceived a higher value at their local public school or were convinced there were more cost-effective ways of providing a Jewish education and Jewish friends for their children.
These parents explained that the distance to the Jewish day school from where they currently lived was not convenient. Prior to the pandemic, they didn’t have the time to carpool their child to and from the school’s location.
Other parents were drawn to the “diverse environments” of their local public school, were concerned the Jewish school was too religious, or saw themselves as champions of the public school system and had children enrolled there.
A mix of factors drove these parents to switch their children during the pandemic into Jewish day school. Half reported they switched because they wanted a five-days-a-week, in-person school, which their previous school didn’t offer. For slightly fewer than half reported that the Covid pandemic was the tipping point for enrolling their children in Jewish day school. They had been interested at some point, but the pandemic is what actually drove them to make the change. And a small group of parents reported that they had been planning on switching to Jewish day school, and the pandemic sped up the process.
Another key finding of the study is that almost all of the interviewees had some type of prior connection to the day school. According to the report, “Some had even previously attended, worked at, or sent their children to these schools or to camps and preschools on these sites.” This has important policy implications; admissions professionals could potentially view people who come into the building for reasons other than schooling as strong candidates for enrollment.
Overall, parents who transferred their children to Jewish day school during the pandemic were satisfied with their experience, and only 15% of interviewees were planning on un-enrolling them. To read the full findings, view our study.