AVI CHAI concluded its general grant making on December 31, 2019.

Lots of Small Sections and Efficiency Too? The Case for Online and Blended Learning

Posted by: Guest

November 8, 2012

Since early 2011, Dr. Harry Bloom at the YU Institute for University-School Partnership has managed a financial benchmarking program funded by AVI CHAI and Federations. The program aims to enable Jewish day schools to achieve a 10% budgetary improvement over three years, generated primarily through expense reduction or increased revenues. Approximately 40 day schools in five communities have participated.
In this guest post, Dr. Bloom presents a case for technology-enabled efficiency based on this work. A more in-depth look at this issue is posted here on the AVI CHAI Ed Tech Blog.
By: Harry Bloom
Few topics have engaged the Jewish blogosphere and press more intensely than the day school “tuition crisis,” which is jeopardizing the sustainability of our day schools by placing tremendous stress on family budgets on the one hand and on schools’ abilities to fund first rate programs on the other hand.
YU’s benchmarking analysis of six college preparatory Jewish high schools presents a strong case for technology-enabled efficiency. Based on a tertile analysis of the schools, a third of their class sections averaged only 6.7 students per section, another third only 13.6 students per section and the remaining third 20.5 students per section. The average cost per student per section ranged from $700 in the most populous sections to $2200 in the least populous ones.
Some of these low student/teacher ratios are conscious, designed to offer more intense teacher to student experiences. Some are due to the competitive pressure on schools to offer broad course offerings, and some to inadequate enrollment. The question remains: What can be done to reduce cost per student, consistent with offering high-quality educational experiences? Three technology-enabled strategies are being deployed currently that can help:

  • First, day schools are using video conferencing to bring in “star” teachers (not infrequently from as far away as Israel) who can serve students across multiple schools—which reduces costs per student.
  • Second, schools are using asynchronous Internet based courses to enable small cohorts of students to take courses supported by online expert “virtual tutors” who can support them whenever they need help. These tutors have instant visibility of students’ work so they provide very focused support for far less than $2200 per student.
  • Third, school systems including Rocketship Education and KIPP Empower are offering “blended” learning courses where students get the best of both worlds—face-to-face teacher interaction plus exposure to online course tutorials and exercises that are individualized to each student’s knowledge, skills and abilities. In this environment, student-to-faculty ratios are higher, but so is the quality of learning outcomes.

The YUSP’s educational technology expert, Dr. Eliezer Jones (ejones1@yu.edu), is actively exploring all of the available options. These include commercial and open source (free and capable of being customized) learning platforms and curricula, plus the creation of consortia that pool proven open source courseware and collaboratively develop affordable and high-quality online curricula in general and Judaic studies. This fall, Dr. Jones is facilitating an online certificate programs for Jewish Day School educators in online/blended instruction and design in an effort to build schools’ capacity to implement these models effectively and efficiently. He is an available resource as part of the YUSP education team focused on 21st century learning in Jewish day schools. Interested parties can sign up at www.YUeLearning.org to follow YUSP’s work in this area.
With support from The AVI CHAI Foundation, YU is supporting a multi-school program in Baltimore that will implement blended learning beginning in middle school math with ultimate planned extension throughout general studies and into high school.
We urge your school to get on the bandwagon and begin purposeful, active incorporation by faculty members of the three strategies identified above, to enhance quality while reducing cost per student. This is a major step in bringing affordable day school education to reality.
As Hillel said, “If not now, when?”
Harry Bloom manages the YU School Partnership’s division of Planning and Performance Improvement, which is tasked with developing and helping schools implement strategic planning, governance strengthening, financial benchmarking and long term financial planning and process improvement efforts. He can be contacted at hbloom1@yu.edu.

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