When I was first hired at AVI CHAI almost ten years ago, it was to facilitate a process to determine the foundation’s 10-year spend down strategy; our doors will close on December 31, 2019. We engaged our own professionals, board members, and field leaders outside of AVI CHAI in multiple, themed workgroups and sub-workgroups (e.g. Jewish day school finance, school leadership, institutional capacity building). Together, we developed a theory of what it would take to leave behind—after our spend down—a “strong Jewish day school field.” We determined that we wanted to make a meaningful contribution in each of four domains: People & Networks, Institutions, Ideas & Knowledge, and Resources. It is the area of “Ideas & Knowledge” I discuss here.
While our foundation has always considered itself “research-based” or “evidence-informed,” we understood that we weren’t really making strategic grants to develop the knowledge base in the Jewish day school field. We were allocating significant resources to AVI CHAI’s Center for Research and Policy, which, under the leadership of Dr. Jack Wertheimer, was producing influential studies for the larger field of Jewish education. Our program evaluations and commissioned studies were, by agreement, kept confidential. And, while they addressed our immediate need to decide to make a grant or not, they didn’t have much utility outside of the foundation because of their design or focus.
Make no mistake, the scholarly field of Jewish education—small and mighty though it may be—is home to fine scholars, an active and committed Network for Research in Jewish Education, and a vital peer review Journal of Jewish Education. But to say that Jewish education practice and funding is deeply informed by knowledge and evidence would be mistaken. Through long and generative conversations with Lee Shulman and also with many Jewish education practitioners, funders, and researchers, an idea was born to see if we couldn’t do more to bridge the gap between research and practice in Jewish education.
CASJE (Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education), which gets its core funding from The AVI CHAI and the Jim Joseph Foundation is a project which aims to bridge that gap. CASJE tries to toil both on the demand and the supply side of Jewish education research. That is, on the supply side it serves as a platform for the production of new, high quality applied research. On the demand side, it tries to help both educators and funders understand, utilize, and (hopefully) demand high quality, applied research. CASJE brings funders and educators together to draw out relevant and pressing problems of practice while in conversation with funders. CASJE then helps facilitate a process of bringing researchers and funders together to address practitioner problems. Through the expert counsel and vast network available via the CASJE board, CASJE is a platform for bringing the best of the general education field to bare on Jewish education.
CASJE is currently sponsoring three large and exciting research studies, one in Jewish day school leadership, one in early childhood education, and one on Jewish educator careers. CASJE also sponsors a program of small research grants, literature reviews on topics of interest, convenings to bring funders and researchers together to think big, and workshops to help educators and education leaders utilize research findings. CASJE isn’t the only way, but it’s one way we are trying to bridge the divide between research and practice in Jewish education.
This post introduces a short series of monthly posts which will dive more deeply into the research-practice gap. The posts are for funders, educators, researchers, and evaluators who hope to engage with some of the questions and problems that the gap presents. Future posts will focus on such issues as: (a) the promise and perils of “definitive” research findings, (b) when numbers aren’t enough, (c) the difference between qualitative research and anecdotes, (d) what education leaders can do when they don’t have time to read the literature, (e) how funders can make evidence informed decisions, and (f) using data to teach (and not just sort) students.
What questions are of greatest interest to you at the moment?