Getting Back on Track: A Working Program for a New Era in Israel

previous section: Socio-Civic Work Plan

Wake-Up Call - A Work Plan for a New Era in Israel

Dan Ben-David

Education Work Plan

If strong socio-economic foundations are a necessary condition for national security, then education is the primary element that gives these foundations their strength.  More specifically, education is the basic national infrastructure.  It is a primary factor in providing equal opportunities for full realization of individual abilities.  The better the education and the lower the educational gaps, the greater the benefit to society.

While it is difficult to understate the importance of a good education system to the country, it is hard to overstate the extent that Israel’s education system has deteriorated, particularly in its ability to provide its students with high quality skills in critical core subjects:

·       The scholastic achievements of Israeli children are among the lowest in the industrialized world.

·       Educational gaps between Israeli children are the widest in the West.

·       The achievements of the brightest pupils – from whose ranks will emerge an important part of the generation that will lead the country in the future – are below those of similar pupils in all of the industrialized countries, and also in relation to a number of other countries whose standard of living is currently lower than that of Israel. 

The problems plaguing Israel’s education system are endemic.  They are not rooted solely in the quality of the teachers, nor do they stem just from inferior educational programs or from inefficient and wasteful management.  The lack of flexibility throughout the system has only amplified and accelerated the decline.  The failure is systemic.  It is not possible to continue like this anymore.

Because the problems are profound and their socio-economic implications so severe, it is no longer sufficient to deal only with the symptoms.  Hence the need for a comprehensive structural reform of the entire education system.

Without substantial improvement in the level of basic education and the provision of equal educational opportunities to its schoolchildren, Israel will have a hard time competing in a modern, competitive global economy.  Without serious enhancement of the “toolbox” that we provide our children, we cannot expect fundamental change in behavioral norms that are eroding the foundations of Israel’s society and government.  Such improvement can occur only as a result of changing the emphases of the school system, instilling a mandatory, high quality core curriculum, increasing the transparency of expenditures and achievements, implementing differential funding that directs additional resources to children in weaker neighborhoods, and vastly increasing the efficiency of the education system.


¬      Introducing an identical – high quality and mandatory – core curriculum in all the education systems.

¬      Providing truly free and complete education from the age of three to 12th grade.

¬      Significant improving student achievements.

¬      Closing gaps and providing equal opportunities to each pupil.

¬      Bolstering the teacher’s status, authority and professionalism.

Changes of this magnitude can only be accomplished at the national level, which means that overall responsibility for attaining these objectives lies with the government of Israel.

Policies Required for Achieving the Objectives

1.     Setting Uniform Criteria for all Pupils

·       Providing pupils with a high-quality core curriculum, identical and mandatory for all education systems.

Despite the great diversity in Israel’s population, there must exist a common set of core values, as well as a common set of skills and knowledge required for functioning as citizens in a democratic society and as productive workers in an open, competitive and modern economy.  The social gaps in Israel’s society are widened by the economic fractures at their core – and these are determined in no small part by the immense variation in educational levels that determine each individual’s point of entry into the global job market that we are now a part of.    Already, the average worker changes jobs several times each decade. Thus, there is a need for a state-of the-art, uniform, core curriculum that will provide an identical basic “toolbox” to every pupil throughout the school system:

-       The basic “toolbox” must be considerably improved. This includes a significant upgrading of the educational levels in core subjects such as Civics, History, Hebrew, English, Mathematics, Science, Geography and Literature.

-       The core curriculum must be uniform in content and in quality if the future economic playing field is to be level. While Israeli society is characterized by numerous lifestyles, each of which demands an education that reflects its distinct social and religious perspective, there is only one economic market in which all the country’s citizens must compete and thrive without becoming a burden to society. Therefore, a country that wants an egalitarian – and not just a successful – society must ensure that the improved core education be provided at equal levels in all its education systems, in all its towns and neighborhoods, in all parts of the country.

·       In order to receive a license, each school in Israeli must adopt and implement the core curriculum.  Any and all public money provided to a school must be conditional upon full acceptance and implementation of the core curriculum.

·       The State of Israel must provide free education to every child, regardless of their needs or ability.  An Israeli is an Israeli is an Israeli, without any relationship to his or her ethnic or religious background.  Each must be provided with the most basic civil right, the right to build their personal futures, and to partake in the building of our collective future.  The education of our children – each and every one of them – must become a national priority second to none.

Only at the national level is it possible to provide a comprehensive solution to the educational needs of the country’s population. Only a national mechanism with the mandatory systemic perspective can reduce regional, ethnic and religious gaps. This is the role of the state – and not of local authorities or philanthropic/voluntary organizations.

Therefore, the government of Israel’s education budget must include sufficient funds for providing education – at a far higher standard than that currently provided – that is truly free for every pupil from the age of three up to completion of high-school.

·       Supplementary funding will be provided to individual schools on the basis of the socio-economic composition of their respective populations and also as an incentive for rewarding school achievement.

·       Better achievements require better classroom environments.  This includes installation of air-conditioning and heating in all classrooms and a stipulation that average class sizes be similar in all the education systems – with no more than 25 students in any given class.

·       A longer school day will be introduced – with qualified teachers only – including a hot lunch for every pupil, served in a proper dining room.

Once the entire teaching staff is present in the school every day and all day, it will be possible to provide additional class time and make the transition to a longer school day and a longer school year in all parts of the country.  Providing more attention to each pupil, augmenting the curriculum, developing special skills and motivating excellence are preconditions to better educational achievements.

These measures constitute the first step in raising the general level of attainment in the country and reducing educational gaps, since the state will supply the augmentation that parents who can afford it already provide today. The presence and the availability teachers in school after formal teaching hours is very important for students who must currently seek expensive assistance from private tutors.

Introduction of a five-day school week enables the education system to make the transition to a longer school day.  This has many consequences beyond the education system. The transition of the entire education system to a five-day week will be a catalyst for the rest of the country – i.e. those businesses that have yet to do so – to make the transition to the five-day work week common in other Western countries. The transition of the entire economy to a five-day work week will alleviate the problem experienced by many families whose children remain alone at home on Fridays while the parents are at work.

The transition of schools to a work day, a work week and a work year that are synchronized with the rest of the economy will enable many parents to join the workforce – which in turn will provide a positive contribution to their standard of living.

2.     Bolstering the Status of Teachers

·       A substantial increase in teachers’ salaries alongside a significant improvement in quality of the teaching workforce.

·       The professional training of a teacher in Israel will require at least an undergraduate degree (BA or BSc rather than the currently acceptable BEd), in addition to a teaching certificate.

·       The number of work hours per day and work weeks per year for full-time teachers be similar to the norm in other sectors of the economy. This will enable the employment of fewer teachers and raise the salary of those already employed.

·       There needs to be more flexibility in the employment of teachers and in the determination of their salaries to enable a system that provides appropriate financial incentives for achievement.  Every attempt should be made to complete this transition in cooperation with the unions representing the teachers.

·       Each teacher must have their own workspace in the school.

3.     Structural Changes in the Education System

A.       At the National Level

·       The ELA commission, which preceded the Dovrat commission, recommended the establishment of a professional and non-partisan National Education Authority.  It will have the authority to determine the credo and the core curriculum of the education system.  This Authority will comprise a maximum of 20-25 professionals and a small administrative staff.

·       The Ministry of Education will be charged with setting policy for the education system in keeping with the credo and core curriculum set by the National Education Authority.

·       The Education Ministry’s districts will be abolished.

·       The current plethora of supervisors will be considerably reduced, to be replaced by an independent – of the Education Ministry – national authority for measurement and assessment.  Data from this authority will enable the Ministry of Education alone, without intervention and duplication of responsibilities from any other ministry, to supervise each of the schools in each of the education systems throughout the country.

B.     At the School Level

·       Financial resources will be provided to the schools according to transparent and equal budgetary classifications, with supplementary funding that takes into consideration the socio-economic status of the student population and incentive programs.

·       All decisions regarding classroom activity, school maintenance, manpower and financial management will be transferred to the schools.

·       The school principal will prepare work plans and translate them into budget proposals that will be submitted to the school’s board (defined below) for approval.  The principal will be responsible for implementing the work plans, achieving the goals, adhering to the budget, and for hiring and firing teachers (subject to labor agreements).

·       The principal must have professional management training and should preferably – but not necessarily – be an experienced teacher.

·       A school board will be established in each school with functions parallel to a corporate board of directors.  The board’s main duties will be to

-       Supervise the work of the principal.

-       Approve the school’s work plans and budgets.

-       Approve hiring and firing of teachers.

The School Board will comprise representatives of four groups: the Ministry of Education, the municipality, parents and teachers – with a majority of representatives from the ministry and the municipality.

C.     At the Local Level

A new system of checks and balances will be established between the national government (the main source of budgets), the municipality (the official representative of the local educational interests), and the end users in the school (who will now receive far wider freedom in utilizing money).  The municipality’s roles will include:

·       Running a municipal education board.

-       The municipal education board will set educational targets – over and above the national core curriculum – adapted to local community preferences.

-       Members of the municipal education board will represent local interests on each of the school boards within its jurisdiction, thereby enabling the municipality to have an input on the choice of principal, the school’s educational targets, and also the approval of the principal’s work plan.

-       The municipality education board will determine the local registration areas and the method for assigning students to the different schools.

·       While the school’s basic budget will be financed entirely by the Education Ministry – for the reasons specified above – the municipality will augment the school budget in order to provide for local educational priorities.

·       The municipality will be responsible for construction of new schools according to the needs determined jointly by the municipality and the Education Ministry.  Funding will be from the national budget according to common national criteria for all schools.

·       The municipality will include the schools within its jurisdiction in holiday festivities and other community events.

·       The municipality should cooperate with the schools’ management to find ways of utilizing school buildings after hours, so as to generate additional income to supplement the school’s budget.

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