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Private schools dominated the list of academic institutions with the highest number of students graduating with honors, according to data released by the Ministry of Education.

Jerusalem's Pelech Girls School topped the list of 30 institutions with 41 percent of its students making the honors list, followed by the Israel Arts and Sciences Academy and the Horev girls seminary, both also in Jerusalem.

"The girls are intellectually curious, and one of our characteristics is our desire to satiate that desire," Shira Breuer, the principal of the private Pelech school. "Our students learn divinity studies as well as enhanced general studies, and it isn't unusual for a girl to take physics and Talmud in her bagrut tests," Breuer said. "Students acceptance is not financially or educationally selective: Selection is made based on intellectual curiosity and capacity, not on the depth of their pockets."

Honors are awarded to students with an above-90 average who have accumulated at least 30 academic units. Some 4.5 percent of high school students receive honors every year.

Many of the schools in the list were private schools mostly from the religious Zionist, secular and Christian Arab sectors.

According to Dr. Ami Wolanski of Tel Aviv University, the schools are highly selective and accept musically or intellectually gifted students, which tend to come from well-to-do families. By so doing, they send tend to reinforce the disparity between the rich and the poor, Wolanksi claims.

Hizki Arieli, head of a group on excellence in education, rejected Wolanksi's claim, and said that private institutions dominate the list because of their teachers' high sense of commitment, not because of the selection process they use in choosing their students.

"Quality isn't just set by the rate of the salaries offered teachers, but also by the attitude of the teachers and students," Arieli said. "Excellence is a state of mind that requires a decision, dedication and stubbornness."

Private high school fees depend on the family's financial capabilities, and fluctuate between a few hundred shekels to 2,000 shekels a month. "So long as the family makes an effort equal to that of the school," he added.

Eventhough Minister of Education Yuli Tamir said she appreciated the accomplishments of the students, she noted that "most of these schools either reject or drop the bad students, which does not conform with the ministry's policy. First-place prizes should go to schools in tough areas that care for students who need help and who still achieve."