Orthodox Schooling: What Do We Know?

April 24, 2013

Source: Jewish Ideas Daily


Some 80 percent of Jewish day school students in the United States come from the Orthodox sector, but the research on the meaning and impact of Jewish education, even day school education itself, focuses primarily (though not exclusively) on people and institutions that are not a part of it. This situation is so because the Orthodox community itself has simply not been interested in financing systematic research on the state of Orthodox education.


The result is that we just don’t know all that much about Orthodox Jewish education. We don’t know much about students, families, teachers, classrooms, curricula, summer camps, youth groups, college choices, administrators, or communities. We don’t know what Orthodox Jewish young people think, believe, or feel as Orthodox Jews, and we don’t know how they act. We don’t know what they like or dislike about observance, what they feel attached to or distanced from. We do not know how many Orthodox people stay Orthodox, and what it means for them to leave or stay. We don’t know what factors correlate with or cause young people to thrive religiously, what causes them to abandon religion, or what leaves them ambivalent.


Yet there is some reason to be optimistic. Educators and researchers at Yeshiva University’s Azrieli School of Jewish Education have begun to gather data about Jewish belief and practice within Orthodox high schools. They have followed groups of students from their schools in the United States to Israel, where the students spent a year or more engaged in full-time study, then examined them at their college campuses around North America. In another study, researchers sent questionnaires to some 1,200 Orthodox high school students and conducted in-depth interviews with scores of them, trying to figure out what they believe, think, feel, and experience as observant Jews.


Soon Yeshiva University and its researchers will collate their new data, contextualize it within what we know about American religion and American Jewish Orthodoxy, and offer a coherent narrative of what is actually happening in the religious and spiritual lives of Orthodox young people. In the meantime, until we get these richer findings, the surveys themselves are important. For the first time, the Orthodox Jewish educational community is collecting data from the same set of respondents over the course of several years, all with the purpose of getting a sense of how the experiences of observant life play out in the context of families, schools, Israel programs, and campuses.


Read Yoel Finkelman's entire post in Jewish Ideas Daily.

Updated: May. 07, 2013