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Why CASJE - Sharon Feiman-Nemser

May 9, 2016
Sharon Feiman-Nemser is the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Professor of Jewish Education and a Senior Scholar at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University. She holds a joint appointment in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Dept. and the Education Program. She started DeLeT (Day School Leadership Through Teaching), currently the Jewish day school concentration in the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program, the DeLeT Alumni Network (DAN) and the Legacy Heritage Teacher Leader Fellowship. Previously, she served on the faculties of the University of Chicago and Michigan State University where she directed innovative teacher education programs and conducted research on teacher education and teacher learning. She has written extensively on teacher education, Jewish education and learning to teach.
Jewish education is a practical enterprise aimed at nurturing meaningful Jewish living. Jewish education is also a field of study. By and large, the practical enterprise and the field of study have relatively little to do with one another. Researchers in Jewish education pursue questions of interest to them, publishing their results in journals and books read mainly by other researchers and scholars. Jewish educators rarely turn to research for insights or guidance regarding their work.  
CASJE was created to help change this. CASJE convenes researchers, Jewish educators and funders and helps them identify pressing questions and problems of mutual concern that can benefit from systematic study. Some of the questions that get raised are neither questions about education or questions that research can answer, so part of the challenge is finding the sweet “researchable” spot that connects these three partner groups.
Foundations that support Jewish education invest in programs and projects that they believe will transform the lives of individual Jews and their communities. While they routinely fund program evaluations, they rarely see the value of supporting related research. CASJE was created to help change this. CAJSE helps funders understand how applied studies in Jewish education can improve the quality of Jewish education by expanding our understanding of why and how transformative programs and projects do (or don’t) work. Such knowledge informs funders and program planners, while building usable knowledge for the field.
Good applied research not only depends on adequate funding, it also requires a supply of well-trained researchers working together to study problems of practical import. In the academic field of Jewish education, few professors have the time or money to pursue a robust program of research and few doctoral students have the opportunity to train with practicing researchers. CASJE addresses these problems by mobilizing support for research, connecting researchers with common interests across institutions, recruiting interested researchers from general education and requiring CASJE-sponsored research to include a mentoring opportunity for doctoral students in Jewish education. 
I have offered three answers to the question of why we need a Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education. We created CASJE to help strengthen the rigor and relevance of research in Jewish education, to increase support for such research and to expand the pool of high quality researchers, all in the service of improving the work of Jewish educators and the field of Jewish education.