The Impact of Day School: A Comparative Analysis of Jewish College Students

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Cover What Difference Does Day School Make

Research comissioned by PEJE in 2007 and conducted by Brandeis University,  What Difference Does Day School Make? The Impact of Day School: A Comparative Analysis of Jewish College Students is one of the most comprehensive research projects conducted on the impact of day school to date.

Key Findings

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.

Academic Preparation in High School

Jewish high school alumni from a non-Orthodox background are the most positive about the level of intellectual challenge and engagement fostered by teachers in classes. This group’s ratings of its preparation in the areas of history, writing, and study skills are on par with the ratings of alumni from private high schools and significantly higher than those of either Orthodox raised alumni of Jewish high schools or alumni of public schools. However, in math, science, and computer literacy, Jewish high school alumni from both Orthodox and non-Orthodox backgrounds perceive that they were significantly less well prepared as compared with both public and private high school peers.

Academic Performance in College

There are no significant differences in the self-reported GPAs of those who attended public, private, or day schools. Students from non-Orthodox backgrounds with six or more years of day school demonstrate the highest academic self-confidence. While day school students from an Orthodox background experience lower math confidence, they like other students who attended day schools, do not appear to experience any skill deficits that limit their willingness to select major fields of study that are dependent on skills related to math and science. Nor are they any more likely than other students to feel the need for tutoring or remedial work in math or science.

Response to Individual Learning Needs

Jewish high school alumni from non-Orthodox backgrounds are the most positive about the encouragement and support received from teachers, and are second only to private high school peers when it comes to their evaluations of the availability of extra help or attention to individual learning needs. By contrast, Jewish high school alumni from Orthodox backgrounds are consistently the least positive in their evaluations of their school’s response to their individual learning needs and the availability of supplementary help. At both ends of the spectrum of ability, day schools appear to be less able to serve the needs of diverse learners, both those who are academically gifted and those who need additional or specialized educational supports.

Integration into College Life

Like other undergraduates, students who attended day schools participate in all aspects of undergraduate life and are well represented in the ranks of student leaders. Even as they maintain strong connections to their day school friends, the social networks of Jewish high school alumni are overwhelmingly comprised of new friends they have met in their dorms, in classes, and through the clubs and organizations in which they participate. At the same time, former day school students, especially those with extensive day school experience, have shown themselves to be more resistant than their public school peers to social pressures for the type of heavy drinking that leads to other risky situations and behaviors. The most striking feature of the social networks of those who attended day schools is the density of their connections with Jewish peers. Those with extensive day school experience are also more likely to restrict their dating to Jewish peers.

Jewish Campus Involvement

Whether the criterion is involvement in formal Jewish learning, enrollment in Jewish  studies courses, observance of holidays, programs on the Holocaust, Israel and Jewish culture, opportunities to do community service sponsored by a Jewish organization, knowledge or Israel or informal celebrations of Jewish holidays with friends, those who have attended day schools are more involved compared with those who did not attend. In terms of most aspects of Jewish campus life and ritual observance, former day school attendees from Orthodox homes are far and away the most involved. But perhaps even more striking is the demonstrated power of day schools to build strong Jewish identities and connections among students who come from non-Orthodox backgrounds. 

Civic Responsibility

Day schools, especially those that attract students from non-Orthodox backgrounds, succeed at imparting an orientation of civic and social responsibility to their students. Former day school students express a stronger sense of responsibility towards addressing the needs of the larger society by influencing social values, helping those in need, volunteering their time to social change efforts, and finding careers that allow them to be of service to the larger community as compared with their public and private school peers. Students with day school experience, especially those from Orthodox backgrounds, also express a greater commitment to the Jewish community, as reflected in their intent to pursue Jewish communal careers.