For many newspapers, the biggest takeaway from the First Survey of the Modern and Centrist Orthodox Community is that 89% of the respondents listed “Cost of Jewish Education” as a serious problem facing our community. Though 70% were very satisfied with the quality of our limudei Kodesh, only 61% were satisfied with limudei chol. Argh!
The tuition crisis has been the Jewish community’s focus for over twenty years. Our best and brightest have tried to solve this. No frills day schools, increasing enrollment and fundraising, increased government funding, joint purchasing, blended learning- we’re still experimenting. Though these have all made us more effective and efficient, they have not (and will not) make a dent in tuition. This is because we have significantly improved (and will continue to improve) our security, technology, facilities, and quality of education. These are all expensive endeavors.
Due to the Lookstein Center, I drove a BMW750i for a week. On my way to a Lookstein program in Israel a few summers ago, my wife and I spent a week in Spain. Though we had reserved the cheapest automatic car, they told us that we’d have to “make do” with the only automatic they had, a BMW. That luxurious experience taught me why people think a BMW is worth the cost (even though I paid the Smart Car price).
Constantly Emphasizing Our Value Proposition – “A person feels strongest about his/her choice of a school the day he/she makes it, and doubts it every day afterwards.” This truism about private schools (coined by Independent School Management) is doubly true for Jewish day schools, as most of our parents would send their children to public school if not for their religious commitment. In other words, most of our customers are Honda drivers to whom we charge a BMW price.
Administrators must constantly remind teachers and staff at all levels to regularly send texts, emails, tweet and Instagram with pictures and anecdotes about what their students learned (with a particular emphasis on middot, critical thinking and general studies). The more personalized, the better. Marketing does not come naturally to most teachers, and they naturally view the students, not the parents, as their “customers.” In today’s environment, every teacher has to become a marketer. Remind them: Every day their parents question the quality of their instruction, so they need to “sell.”
How to Convince Parents We’ve Got Quality Secular Studies – Every principal receives more complaints about the quality of the limudei chol than limudei Kodesh. It’s because the parents know more, and care more, about secular studies. Though there is a national consensus that our public schools are failing (and the comparisons to students’ test scores in other countries proves this), our parents mistakenly perceive that their children are getting an inferior product.
Our parents need independent confirmation of the quality of our English, Math, Science and History. Though we need to be very careful of how we spend our school’s dollars, the fact that only 61% of parents fully agree that our schools provide a strong secular education says that they need independent confirmation from experts that it is so. Also, profile graduates who are finding college a breeze.
The Paradox: Why Parents REALLY Send Their Kids to Our Schools – Though they rarely verbalize it, our parents make the huge sacrifice to send their children to our schools because they want their kids to choose to be committed Jews. They understand that the “Judaism on $40,000 a year” guy is taking a HUGE risk. Through anecdotes about satisfied parents and thriving graduates, we need to regularly remind our parent body that we are religiously successful with the overwhelming majority of our students. That’s why our parents really chose our schools.
Two people in the booth next to me in a restaurant in Miami Beach were talking, oblivious to my presence. “Did you hear what they’re charging at the Boca High School now?” His friend answered, “Yes, but I hear it’s worth it.”
Bottom Line: Our schools are ridiculously expensive, but that’s what a quality private school education costs. It is what it is. However, we need to do a better job PRing the good work that we are doing, so our parents feel that their sacrifice is worth it.
Rabbi Perry Tirschwell is the Founder of the Torah Educators Network. He previously served as the Executive Director of the Shulamith School for Girls, Executive Director of National Council of Young Israel, and Founding Head of Katz Yeshiva High School.