Evaluation Research for Jewish Education: Everyone Making Shabbat for Themselves
Putting aside the theological debate over this teaching in today's world,it is an apt analogy for the field of evaluation research in Jewish education. Eran Tamir, a researcher at Brandeis University, recently published an essay pointing out that the Jewish community lacks uniform standards of Jewish education measurement. As far back as 2007 when he was designing an outcome study, he "looked for validated measures (survey questions which were carefully developed and tested in previous studies) in Jewish education, but found none." He went on to note that two additional studies measuring the same areas of Jewish education as his used two additional measurement scales for education outcomes. "Each survey used a range of different items to measure the same phenomena, hindering comparison." The result is that the ability to spot trends, patterns and other relevant information is limited if everyone uses different measurment systems.
Tamir posits that Jewish education research be built on the same commonalities of other social science fields.
"I recommend an approach to evaluation research that encourages researchers to build on each other’s work and create over time well-established and validated measures. This approach will gradually produce separate but standardized data sets that will feed into and become a part of any future evaluation study and, as a result, strengthen the entire field."
I am in agreement with him. Jewish education still has not tackled the vital area of evaluation. Our evaluations are often skewed to the interests of the project funder or designed to lend support for the project's validity and grant renewal. If we looked at it from a common standard rather than disparate sources, we could spot patterns in research that would allow us to gain much better research knowledge for practical use in the Jewish education field. David Bryfman has made this call for informal education and Tamir is making it for formal education. Both are right and we need to think more strategically in our evaluation process to insure a uniform experience that is understandable and measurable by all. Many of us may embrace making Shabbat for ourselves in these times, but we should embrace measurement criteria that allows us to make sure our differing approaches have mutual measurement criteria so we can look and learn excellence in education from and for everyone.