From the Executive Director

Data and Evidence-based Practice in Jewish Education

By Chip Edelsberg on May 29th, 2013

Talk of so-called “big data” is in vogue.  This expression refers to massive data sets that are compiled, analyzed, “curated,” and used in everything from retail marketing to medicine.  A related trend is the increased frequency in which evidence--information that is accumulated, examined, and tested for effectiveness--is applied in fields as diverse as agriculture, transportation, and education.

I invoke these major phenomena at a time when the Jim Joseph Foundation is conducting its semi-annual survey of the number of Jewish children, teens, youth, and young adults who are served by Foundation-supported grantees.  We have been monitoring the number of beneficiaries in Foundation-funded programs and initiatives since the Foundation’s inception.  While clearly not a science, we do believe that grantees accurately count the number of Jews whom they serve (and, for our purposes, specifically as a function of an experience the Jim Joseph Foundation makes possible).  A summary of our current survey will be posted following the Foundation’s June 23rd-24th Board of Directors meeting.  We always find this profile to be instructive, and we hope many of the field’s stakeholders will view it similarly.

Meanwhile, three Foundation grantees continue their exceptional data, evidence, and research-related work.  If ultimately institutionalized, these three programs will make a powerful contribution to the field of Jewish education.

JData, diligently led by Dr. Amy Sales at Brandeis University’s Cohen Center, is a Jewish education database and website that collects and provides census-like information about Jewish educational programs in North America.  JData seeks to strengthen the Jewish education system with high-quality, publicly-available user-driven data.  With JData, Jewish educational organizations can improve their planning activities while educational researchers can advance knowledge more quickly and stimulate action in Jewish education.

A second grantee working in this area is New York University’s Berman Jewish Policy Archive, which has created a Jewish Survey Question Bank (JSQB).  Its collection of over 13,000 research and evaluation questions from more than 80 data collection instruments is organized into an online data bank. The website will officially launch later this summer.  With the potential to grow into an even more robust source, JSQB will offer researchers, evaluators, graduate students, organizational professionals, etc. unprecedented access to what could become a widely accepted reference for a great deal of Jewish education and demographic research, as well as program evaluation of education initiatives.

Thirdly, the nascent Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE) is set to release a paper articulating a research agenda for Jewish Educational Leadership.  CASJE participants have prepared as well several papers on researchable topics in Israel Education – also soon to be distributed to the field.  Housed at Stanford University, CAJSE is now preparing a 2.0 version of the Consortium.  At the heart of this effort will be an enterprise designed to “change the culture of how, when, why, and by whom Jewish educational research gets done; the overall quality of what research gets produced; and the active participation of investors in and practitioners of Jewish education in the building of a robust field of useable knowledge that will actually inform and improve practice” (from Dr. Wendy Rosov of Rosov Consulting, Inc. – CASJE’s project manager).

Conducting educational research; establishing evidence for use of proven strategies and interventions to enhance Jewish educational practice; collecting data and building large data sets – relatively few philanthropists of Jewish education are currently making significant investments in these activities.  But databases are central to quality research.  Educational practice guided by reputable, rigorous research is one of the hallmarks of a true profession. And funders of Jewish education who are provided more opportunities to support evidence-based practice increase their chances of awarding grants that can make a real difference in teaching and learning.  (It bears noting that many major efforts in general education have been made to assemble data sets and to use them for purposes of informing school instructional, curriculum, management, and leadership practices.  Among these numerous efforts are the Strategic Data Project; Common Educational Data Standards; State Longitudinal Data Systems; and the Johns Hopkins University’s Data Driven Reform in Education.)

A field that is bereft of sustained, high-quality applied research and one in which evidence is used haphazardly is not likely to realize its potential.  In this case, the potential we are pursuing is a generation of well educated, literate Jewish youth who choose to live vibrant Jewish lives. Practitioners and scholars working closely with one another to enrich the entire range of contemporary Jewish educational experience is a future worth pursuing.

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One response to “Data and Evidence-based Practice in Jewish Education”

  1. Kol Hakavod Chip,
    It is critical that the Jewish Community - and Jewish Philanthropy in particular - harnesses the immense power of big data.
    The opportunities that data analysis gives us to be better in different fields is enormous and I also see with dismay that we are lagging behind in embracing this great tool.
    In the complex world we live, intuitions aren't enough. We need research and quality information. Otherwise, we are flying blind.
    I'm heartened by the pioneering work of the JJF in this field.

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The Jim Joseph Foundation invests in promising Jewish education grant initiatives. We partner with effective organizations that seek to inspire young people to discover the joy of living vibrant Jewish lives.