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The education system has made no progress over the last decade in narrowing educational gaps between well-off and needy students, according to a study included in the Bank of Israel's annual report, published yesterday.

The study found that in the 2004-05 academic year, the proportion of students who earned a bagrut (matriculation) certificate was 25.5 percentage points higher in the two highest socioeconomic deciles than in the two lowest deciles. That is almost identical to the gap recorded in 1992-93 - 25.3 percentage points.

The gap is due in large part to the fact that wealthier families can and do spend considerable sums of money on private education to supplement what their children receive from the public school system, the report said. "Today, every 10 percent increase in family income raises the percentage of [students who] matriculate by an average of some 0.4 percentage points," it added.

A source familiar with the data, who asked to remain anonymous, commented that "this 'running in place' is in essence a retreat, which is not only reflected in the education system, but also has implications for the labor market."

The study also compared the proportion of students who passed the bagrut in Tel Aviv to the proportion who passed in poorer towns in outlying areas of the country, and found that this gap had narrowed, from 17.3 to 9.9 percentage points. However, with regard to those who scored above 80 on the math bagrut - chosen as an indicator that the student excelled rather than merely got by - the gap actually widened, from 14.4 to 19.6 percentage points. This may indicate that while some progress has been made in narrowing gaps at the most basic level, they remain entrenched when it comes to higher-level studies.

One of the report's most surprising findings related to the achievements of single-parent families: It found that after adjusting for other factors, such as income or ethnic background, the proportion of single-parent children who matriculated in 2004-05 was 8 percentage points less than among two-parent children - whereas 12 years earlier, the gap had been only 2 percentage points.

The findings also reconfirmed the theory that the mother's educational level is critical in predicting the child's academic success: For each additional year of schooling that the mother had, the report said, the proportion of children who matriculated rose by 1.5 to 2 percentage points.

The study found that the proportion of Ethiopian immigrant students who matriculated was about 8 percentage points lower than their peers. However, this gap disappeared completely after adjusting for their mothers' lower educational level and their lower family incomes.

"The data underscores the need to adopt an affirmative action policy in allocating public resources in education for the benefit of high school students from weak socioeconomic backgrounds ... in contrast to the almost uniform allocations that prevail in secondary education today," the report concluded.