This research paper Trends in Maryland and D.C. Jewish Day School Enrollment, 2004-2020, analyzes enrollment data for Maryland and DC Jewish day schools and brings into stark contrast the trends in enrollment for Orthodox and non-Orthodox institutions. This research is the first of its kind to rigorously analyze the impact of COVID-19 on Jewish day school enrollment by grade level, region, and Orthodox/non-Orthodox affiliation across an entire region.
Read the full report by clicking the link below:
“We teased out the full impact of COVID-19 by comparing actual enrollment figures in the 2020-2021 school year against the expected enrollment numbers projected by our prior research,” researcher Gabriel Aaronson explained. “We have found that while total enrollment in the 2020-2021 school year is right on par with our pre-COVID projections, this masks significant drops in Orthodox Jewish day school enrollment and significant, recent gains in non-Orthodox Jewish day school enrollment.”
Overall enrollment in Maryland and DC Jewish day schools declined from 8,223 students in 2004 to 7,361 students in 2011 but has rebounded in the ensuing decade to 8,503 students – the highest ever. Most of the growth in recent years, though, has been in the Orthodox schools.
Fifteen years ago, enrollment in Orthodox schools was roughly on par with enrollment in non-Orthodox schools. By 2019, enrollment in Orthodox schools was more than double the enrollment at non-Orthodox schools (5,979 and 2,377 students, respectively).
The COVID-19 pandemic may have begun a rebalancing of the scales. Enrollment in Orthodox day schools in the 2020-2021 school year was 380 students lower than Aaronson projected based on pre-COVID trends. By contrast, enrollment in non-Orthodox day schools in 2020 significantly overperformed Aaronson’s projections and added 455 students.
Are Orthodox day school students switching to non-Orthodox day schools?
“There are few COVID-related reasons why parents would switch from Orthodox to non-Orthodox schools,” the report concludes. “It is possible that some parents perceived that the faculty in non-Orthodox schools were more effective at teaching remotely than the faculty at Orthodox schools. However, for most parents, this factor is unlikely to overcome the ideological disparity between Orthodox and non-Orthodox religious teachings.”
More likely is that the public-school system’s lackluster response to the pandemic and inability to transition smoothly to remote learning were a boon for non-Orthodox Jewish day schools. According to the 2013 Pew survey of U.S. Jews, 81% of Orthodox families had their children enrolled in Jewish day compared to just 23% for non-Orthodox Jewish families, so it is fair to assume that the non-Orthodox day schools would benefit most from an influx of students from public school.
And as to the decrease in Orthodox day school enrollment, there are two possibilities that stand out in the report. “Orthodox day school parents may have opted to move their children into public school settings, being less concerned about the secular influences of non-Jewish classmates on their children given that instruction was happening remotely,” he said. “Alternatively, Orthodox parents may have concluded that homeschooling their children would be cheaper and just as effective as distance learning.” Aaronson did find a correlation between the decrease in Orthodox day school enrollment and an increase in homeschooling as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
Several questions remain. Are the missing students going to return to Orthodox day schools as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes? Will non-Orthodox day schools be able to retain their extra students if or when public schools reopen?
The Maryland Department of Education is expected to publish their October 2021 private school enrollment figures by March 2022. At that point we can begin research on the enduring effects of COVID-19 on Jewish day school enrollment in Maryland and DC.