Are Private Schools Better? Jewish Day Schools have a Unique Answer
A recent University of Virginia study suggests that private education is not inherently better than public education. This conclusion is consistent with other research. I don't believe that these results are a surprise and they beg the question why should families choose a private school?
I expect that other private-independent schools will point to their safe and caring environments and high quality academics. Some schools will continue to publicize their small-class sizes and individualized instruction. Other may proclaim they have excellent faculties who care about their students and are not required to teach to the test. CESJDS can claim all these benefits and more.
As a Jewish day school educator, I have a much stronger case for why the education we offer is so valuable; we are educating the next generation of Jewish leaders with the skills to be both successful in their lives and mensches who will make a different in the broader world because of their values. The students at my school have a clear advantage over other private-independent and public school students - they are learning who they are and what their values are. They will gain a strong Jewish identity, connection to Israel, and the foundation for a meaningful Jewish life anchored in their ancient tradition.
There is overwhelming evidence that day schools are among the most effective forms of Jewish education. Day school graduates have been shown to be more Jewishly engaged, disproportionately involved in Jewish leadership roles, more likely to raise their children Jewishly, and less likely to engage in negative social behaviors in college than their Jewish public-school and private-independent school peers. There are also studies that indicate that the families of Jewish day school students benefit from the school communities that they initially explored for their children and ultimately chose and continue to choose for their own Jewish involvement.
While students at my school have all the benefits that other private-independent learners do, what makes their education so valuable and meaningful is that the Jewish component is combined with the best of general education. There is a well-known story in the Midrash (ancient rabbinic commentaries on the Torah) of the Roman Emperor whose cooks are unable to match the taste of the Shabbat food the rabbi prepared despite having all the recipes. "The ingredient [you are missing] cannot be bought at the marketplace, nor brought from a foreign land. It is called the Sabbath spice and it can only be found in the food served on the Sabbath day," Rabbi Judah tells the Emperor. Similarly, Jewish day schools have something that cannot be replicated in other school settings. That's why I assert it truly is a better education.