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Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar has signed new regulations requiring principals to report all cases of violence between students or between students and teachers.

The new rules are part of the minister's campaign to reduce violence and increase discipline in schools. Sa'ar views these behavioral issues as the reason Israeli students are lagging behind their peers in other countries. According to a new study, however, disciplinary problems account for only a small part of these gaps in academic performance.

Recent years have seen considerable discussion of discipline among Israeli schoolchildren, as well as of their achievements as measured by international tests. Relatively few studies have examined the connection between discipline and academic achievement.

The latest study, completed about a week ago, was conducted by Prof. Yossi Shavit of Tel Aviv University's Sociology and Anthropology Department and Carmel Blank, a Ph.D. student in the department. It is part of an international project headed by Prof. Richard Arum of New York University. The researchers focused on scores in the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) test administered to eighth-graders in the United States, Canada, Chile, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Italy, the Netherlands and Israel. The test also gathered information from students, teachers and principals on specific issues, including tardiness, cutting class and disruption in lessons. About 4,300 students from approximately 150 schools in Israel took part.

Israel, together with the U.S. and Holland, was rated highest by teachers and principals for disciplinary laxness.

This is not surprising, said Shavit, in light of "classroom crowding, low teacher salaries and socioeconomic gaps between students."

With regard to academic achievement, Israeli students placed 19th out of 45 states. (Israel's ranking slipped in the 2007 TIMSS tests.) "Other studies show that Israel is on the cusp between First World and Third World countries," Shavit added.

The study also shows that among schools here, those in the Arab sector have the fewest disciplinary problems, as reported by teachers and principals.