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Israeli teachers' salaries rank 28th out of 32 developed countries and are less than half the average for members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, according to the OECD's 2008 edition of its Education at a Glance report.

The report examines the state of education in 2006, and found that the average wage for a new teacher in the public elementary school system was $13,257 a year. This compares with $27,828 average in the OECD.

The highest salaries were in Luxembourg, Switzerland and Germany, and the wage gap grows in the higher grades.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir said the report does not yet reflect the effects of wage increases granted in the "New Horizon" education reforms. "We have started a process of improving teachers' salaries," Tamir said.

However, the head of the ministry's National Authority for Measurement and Evaluation in Education, Prof. Michal Beller, said that even after the full implementation of the reforms "there will still be something to improve in the area of teachers' wages compared with other countries with conditions similar to Israel" such as New Zealand, Spain and South Korea.

But figures for spending per pupil in dollars show that Israel spends less than the OECD average at all ages: $3,650 per child per year in Israeli preschools, compared with the OECD average of $6,252; $4,699 in elementary school compared with $4,888; and $5,495 in secondary education, compared with $7,804.

GDP 'distorts the data'

Beller said the treasury's comparison of education spending as part of gross domestic product distorts the data because Israel has a very high percentage of children compared with other countries and a relatively low GDP per capita.

Tamir noted that in Israel there are in practice four educational systems: the Jewish state schools, the religious state schools, the ultra-Orthodox system and the Arab sector. She said that "each is split into sub-organizations. The result is an excess number of schools and staff units, since every system functions separately. That is why operating the educational system is so expensive."

Israel is also doing poorly regarding classroom overcrowding. Average class size in 2006 was 27.5 students in elementary schools compared with the OECD average of 21.5. At junior high it was 32.8 in Israel and 24 in the OECD.

The number of teaching hours per pupil in Israel was much higher than the OECD average, though an analysis of the figures shows the number of hours dedicated to core subjects such as language, math and science are relatively low.

"In Israel we teach less of the core subjects and more of other subjects," said Tamir. High schools offer a large number of different tracks and teaching resources are divided among small groups, "and it is possible we are paying the price for this variety."

The OECD report also discusses international tests, where Israel is in the bottom third. Since 2000, in the three tests given to 15-year-olds in math, reading and science, Israel was ranked in 39-40th place out of 57 countries.