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A Tel Aviv District Court this week ordered Petah Tikva and the Education Ministry to release to any parent data on matriculation qualification from the city's high schools.

The ruling is an important step in a several-year-long battle by parents and local authorities to get comparative statistics on schools. According to the lawyer who filed the petition, Flori Nissan, "The paternalistic age in which various authorities say they know what is best for our kids is over."

The Education Ministry sharply criticized the ruling, and Education Minister Yuli Tamir called it "an example of the court not understanding the real needs of the school system. Publication of such data will increase the dropout rate among weaker students and increase social gaps."

Nissan argued in a freedom-of-information petition that Petah Tikva's city hall should give her data on the rate of completion of 12th grade from 2003 to 2005, as well as information on students entitled to matriculation certificates in city schools.

A number of petitions have been filed in the past demanding matriculation data by school.

One petition, filed by Tel Aviv city hall about five years ago, spawned a ruling stating that local authorities can publish such data as long as they add more complete figures on dropout rates by school or the number of immigrant students. The court also prohibited cities to rank schools according to matriculation qualification rates.

The Education Ministry is developing a method to publish integrated data on the school system, however, the recent ruling will give Nissan access to "raw data". However, the court ruled that Nissan cannot transmit the data to a third party until April 28, apparently to allow authorities to publish the integrated data.

Nissan's son is in 11th grade at a Petah Tikva high school. "For years, the city has claimed that because of integration, the level at all the high schools is equivalent," she said yesterday. "Since the city refuses to publish matriculation information, there's no way to verify that.," she added.

"If the figures indicate substantial differences between schools in matriculation qualification percentages, it would raise questions regarding the efficacy of integration."

A lawyer for Petah Tikva said in a hearing this week that "publication of the figures will harm the issue. The moment we announce it, or some local paper publishes it, bedlam will break loose as parents seek en masse to transfer their kids to different schools."

Tamir said that "we want to encourage integration of weak students and fight the dropout rate, and publishing matriculation rates by school will create negative motivation. Schools will encourage students to drop out who reduce the average matriculation rate."

Tamir added that the ministry would obey the court order, but noted that the court had helped parents to increase social inequality.