The present report describes the first national study specifically designed to determine the near-term effects of day schools on the academic, social, and Jewish trajectories of former students during their college years. The study considers the impact of day schooling in a variety of areas including Jewish identity and connections to Jewish communal life, as well as social and academic integration into college. Second, the study contextualizes the experiences of students from day schools through comparison with Jewish undergraduates from private and public school backgrounds.
The design of the on-line survey used in the project was informed by the results of focus groups with Jewish college students. The survey assesses undergraduates' perceptions of their educational and social experiences prior to college, the capacity of their previous education to address their individual learning styles and needs, their academic preparedness for secondary school and college level work, their social competence and academic self-confidence as they transitioned from high school to college campus, and their sense of individual responsibility for addressing social problems.
A two-frame sampling strategy allowed access to a large group of college-age alumni of Jewish day schools, as well as Jewish undergraduates from other pre-college educational choices. The primary sampling strategy entailed use of email lists obtained from twelve campus Hillel organizations. The supplementary sampling strategy involved the use of lists of college-age alumni from 16 Jewish day schools. Contact was attempted with more than 9,000 email addresses, and 3,312 Jewish undergraduates completed the survey. Respondents represent a diversity of educational backgrounds. More than one-third attended a Jewish day school at some point during grades one through twelve. Over half graduated from a public high school, about a fifth graduated from a Jewish high school, and 15% from a non-Jewish independent school. The sample reflects the broad socio-demographic range of the population. The sample is relatively balanced for gender and features virtually equal representation from students in all four years of college. Comparison of the communities in which students graduated high school with the geographic distribution of the total U.S. Jewish population indicates that the obtained sample closely mirrors patterns of residence for American Jews.
Alumni of Jewish high schools gain admittance to colleges and universities that represent the full spectrum of institutions of higher education including the most highly selective. In fact, the majority of the respondents to the present survey attend colleges and universities in the top quartile of ranked schools. For purposes of testing the adequacy of day school preparation for college, and the impact of day school education on the ability of students to function in both Jewish and non-Jewish settings, the responses of day school graduates (Orthodox and non-Orthodox) were compared with those of public and private school respondents.
The results of the present study provide a very positive portrait of the successes of day school students, both in terms of the ways they are similar to and the ways they do better than their public and private school peers. Nevertheless, the finding that day school alumni, compared to other Jewish students, perceive themselves as less well prepared in math, science, and computer literacy suggests an area ripe for improvement. The present results also suggest that day schools need to attend to the individual learning needs of all their students, including those who may need greater challenge and enrichment as well as those who may require extra educational supports. Neither parents nor students should feel that educational needs are compromised. Along with drawing attention to these areas for change, this report reveals areas of success and presents a substantial opportunity to communicate that success to a wider audience of parents. Although the present findings suggest that day schools can do more to improve math and science learning and to address the needs of diverse learners, the report also validates that day schools provide top-notch preparation for a broad range of colleges and universities, including those that are the most selective.