classroom - Daniel Bar-On - October 22 2010
Elementary school students in class at the ORT school in Givat Ram Oct. 22 2010 Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Twenty-two percent of students in middle school report that their teachers mock or humiliate them, and 7 percent say a teacher has intentionally hit or pushed them, according to student responses to questionnaires submitted by the Education Ministry as part of last year's Meitzav exam.

In addition, almost half the students in middle school (seventh through ninth grades ) say their peers have damaged school property, and 15 percent of all students asked reported being insulted for their skin color, ethnicity or religion, according to the detailed reports the schools have received.

The data indicate that there has been no significant change in the extent of the various forms of violence reported by students over the past three years, even as academic achievement has improved slightly.

But while the Education Ministry has trumpeted those academic achievements - as measured by the first part of the Meitzav exam, a standardized test that measures the subject-specific knowledge of students in the fifth through ninth grades - it has not reported the results of the second part. The second section is a compilation of questionnaires submited to students and telephone interviews with teachers that aims to create a profile of the social and educational environment in the schools.

Two weeks ago the Education Ministry released the results of the section of the exam that tests students' knowledge of either Hebrew or Arabic (whichever is their mother tongue ), along with math, English and science. But at a press conference held in Tel Aviv, Education Ministry officials reported the academic improvement and failed to mention the social and educational environment at the schools - an omission that caused leading child advocate Yitzhak Kadman to ask what exactly was going on.

"Is this part of the conspiracy of silence that characterizes the way this sensitive subject is dealt with, or is it that once again they didn't get a chance yet to analyze the responses precisely to these questions?" asked Kadman, who heads the National Council for the Child.

The comment came as the Education Ministry is focused on combating student violence in the schools, with little attention given to teachers who insult or harm students.

Shortly after becoming education minister last year, Gideon Sa'ar announced a zero-tolerance policy toward students who act violently or otherwise pose discipline problems.

The results reported by the ministry paint a fairly positive picture of the way students feel about school, student-teacher relationships and the involvement of students in violent incidents. But the more detailed reports demonstrate that the reality is more complex.

Sixty-four percent of middle school students reported that teachers favored some students over others, and 52 percent said some teachers are disrespectful about what the students have to say.

The numbers are somewhat better for the fifth- and sixth-graders, a third of whom report that teachers treat them unfairly. Sixteen percent of fifth- and sixth-graders, compared with 22 percent of middle school students, reported that their teachers mock or humiliate them.

While there was less vandalism reported in the lower grades, the rate of students who said there were groups of violent students in their schools who harass or harm others was the same (35 percent ) for fifth- and sixth-graders as it was for middle school students, as was the rate of students who said their peers had stolen from them (16 percent ).

Last year 203,661 fifth- through ninth-grade students filled out the questionnaire and 16,127 teachers responded to telephone interviews on the same subjects.

The students and teachers weren't always in agreement.

Of the middle school teachers, 89 percent said they give their students extra information and guidance to improve their understanding of the material, but just 53 percent of the students agreed.