As GAJE has reported frequently, individuals and volunteer lay groups have sprung up across North America in the past few years to try to make Jewish education affordable in their respective communities.
Some months ago we wrote about an interesting initiative by James Wolfe, CEO of Integrate S/T, a software development firm in Newton, Massachusetts, who designed and posted on line a Google Spreadsheet listing the cost of tuition at a number of day schools.
In an article on JeducationWorld.com, entitled “Demystifying Day School Tuition”, Wolfe wrote that the spreadsheet had been intended for friends and family, and asked for basic information about schools and tuition cost. The spreadsheet exercise went “viral” and collected data about hundreds of day schools around the world.
As Wolfe acknowledged however, the spreadsheet ultimately proved unhelpful in leading to a deeper understanding of the architecture of tuition costs.
“That the spreadsheet was shared so broadly,” Wolfe wrote, “indicates how deeply it resonated with the larger Jewish community. The information—and the desire to democratize it—clearly struck a nerve. Still, this unintended project mostly failed to serve as a catalyst for any form of change.”
He understood that “sticker prices” alone do not convey the information that is required to truly understand all of the underlying costs at each school. “The spreadsheet failed to consider cost of living, financial aid, and the depth of offerings at each school. Some schools feature more educational opportunities and amenities than others, to say nothing about non-educational drivers of cost such as dormitories and meal plans.”
Indeed simply posting tuitions may even have generated more resentment than it did understanding. But Wolfe remained undeterred. Rather than resign himself to the failure of a worthwhile experiment, he refined his experiment. And thus, he has presented a new, hopefully better version of the spreadsheet idea.
“To truly solve a problem, we must first understand it. As a community, we must take a hard look at our day schools and place their costs into a fuller context. Revealing and democratizing information is crucial but accumulating and sharing good data is even more critical. That’s why I’ve now created the Jewish School Database (JSDB). The JSDB is a website that aims to empower the community to gather and learn important and sometimes elusive data.
“With JSDB, we will be able to identify and analyze outcomes, understand how schools compare to each other, and enable the school administrators to develop best practices. The day schools largely ignored the 2016 spreadsheet because they could claim—perhaps rightfully—that their tuitions vary because their offerings are different. This new website and the data it collects will allow parents and other stakeholders to evaluate whether these claims are accurate. Most importantly, it will hold schools accountable for the choices they make when balancing quality and cost.”
The website is designed to collect data in three categories: outcomes, experience and expenses.
Wolfe pleads with individuals to post information on the JSDB. He describes the effort in a manner that we appreciate and support. “This project is necessarily grassroots… While no individual data point will solve the tuition crisis, working together we can build something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Reaching a critical mass will allow us to bring about real change. That goal can only be met with your participation.”
We are striving to help make Jewish education affordable. If we fail, we will, alas, have contributed to the future demise of our vibrant, broadly based, diverse, activist Jewish community.
Thus, GAJE urges readers to join in Wolfe’s effort, for he shares the same goal.