Special to the JTA 2-decade Enrollment Decline in Jewish Schools is Leveling off
Menu JTA Search

Special to the JTA 2-decade Enrollment Decline in Jewish Schools is Leveling off

Download PDF for this date

Arthur Brody, president of the American Association for Jewish Education (AAJE) said that the 183 communities surveyed for its Jewish schools enrollment census reported an actual enrollment of 344,251 students in 1978-79. The 183 communities represent 96.4 percent of the total estimated Jewish population in the United States. Based on Jewish population figures for the remainder of the country, he said the estimated enrollment could be extrapolated at 357,107.

Reported enrollment in day schools increased 18.4 percent from 1974-75 to 90,675 students, Brody said, while reported enrollment in two-day-a-week (or more) congregational schools rose 24.5 percent during the same period to 169,315 students. By comparison, he noted that reported enrollment in one-day-a-week schools dropped 8.9 percent to 84,261 students.

“The day school phenomenon, continuing an upward trend of the post two decades is enhanced even further this time by the fact that the growth is not limited solely to Orthodox schools nor to schools in the greater New York area long considered to be the geographic bastion of day school education,” Brody said.

He pointed out that reported enrollment in Conservative day schools rose 42.9 percent over the past four years to 9588 students, while the population in Reform day schools more than quadrupled to 1936 students during the same period. In addition, the proportionate day school enrollment of all schools outside New York grew from 29 percent to nearly 40 percent since 1974-75 — “proof positive that parents in less densely populated environs are interested in providing their children with a day school education, “Brody said.


The AAJE president disclosed that the waning popularity of one-day-a-week education was influenced most by dramatic shifts in enrollment among Reform schools. He said that whereas 75 percent of all Reform schools offered one-day-a-week education in 1974-75, only 47.2 percent offered it in 1978-79. Correspondingly, two-day-a-week (or more) education grew proportionately in popularity from 24.6 percent to 51.2 percent among Reform schools over the past four years.

Among the reporting schools, the census showed that those of Reform orientation represented 35.6 percent of the total enrollment, followed by Conservative (29.5 percent), Orthodox (24.1 percent), communal (7.1 Percent), independent (3.6 percent) and Yiddish (0.1 percent) Broken down by department, 61.4 percent of the reported students were enrolled in elementary grades, 16.8 percent in high schools, 11.7 percent in primary grades and 10 percent in nursery or kindergarten classes.

Thirty-two percent (110,177) of all students were enrolled in schools in the greater New York area, the census showed. Of that number, 53.6 percent were enrolled in Orthodox schools (owing, in large measure, to the high proportion of Orthodox day schools in the region), while 24.2 percent were in Conservative schools and 20.5 percent in Reform schools. The ratios were reversed among schools in communities outside New York, where the largest enrollment was Reform (42.7 percent), followed by Conservative (31.9 percent) and Orthodox (10.3 percent)


Further Findings showed that the proportionate enrollment among the reporting schools was greatest (53.7 percent) in communities with Jewish populations more than 150,000 Schools in communities of between 50,000 and 149,999 represented 17.1 percent of the total enrollment, while those in communities of between 10,000 and 49,999 had 20.8 percent and those in communities of less than 10,000 had 8.3 percent.

Brody said that while the census represented “the most reliable demographic document relating to Jewish education that has ever been published, it unfortunately gives the Jewish community no way of ascertaining the proportion of potential students who are not attending Jewish schools.”

He said that this “crucial statistic, telling us the percentage of children of school age who are not receiving a Jewish education, can only be obtained if each community undertakes such a study among its own population, ” and he urged that Jewish communal planners “give it their most serious consideration.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund