Where's the reform?
The required revolution will not happen tomorrow. But it will surely occur after the disaster arrives - when we discover that, in the next battery of PISA tests, we have plummeted to rock-bottom on the roster of Western countries and that our national existence is in peril.
2007 will be remembered as Israel's "Year of Education": difficult, prolonged strikes, talk about reform, and self-congratulations by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Finance Minister Roni Bar-On and Education Minister Yuli Tamir. They believe success is in the bag. A reform was introduced and Israel's education system will leap forward.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The much talked-about "reform" will change nothing. Its implementation will be partial in elementary schools and nonexistent in secondary schools.
To rescue our education system, we need a revolution, a total change in thinking. We must shatter the critically ill education system's old assumptions, from kindergarten to university. And we need a courageous prime minister and revolutionary-minded education minister ready to fight the entire world. Here are the plan's six mandatory elements:
1. Elimination of the different school streams. We must end the separate state, state-religious and ultra-Orthodox systems. We belong to one nation; we must attend the same school system and learn from the same books. That will reduce alienation, and Israel's fragmented society will be a real melting pot. When ultra-Orthodox Jewish children begin learning mathematics, English, science, history and civics - like their counterparts in Brooklyn and Antwerp - the achievement level in Israel's schools will rise. Religious studies will be taught in the afternoon, as an addition for interested students.
2. Restoration of the teaching profession's prestige. Today, those not accepted to university can be admitted to teachers colleges, whose admission requirements are dismally low. The teachers colleges should be shut down and teacher training offered in our research universities, which will require all prospective teachers to earn a teacher's certificate and undergraduate degree (at least).
3. Major changes in the education budget's structure. Shutting down the teachers colleges will save hundreds of millions of shekels annually. Moreover, all superfluous administrative strata in the education system must be eliminated. There is no need for an inflated main office in Jerusalem as well as regional and municipal administrations, in addition to each school's own administration. We must eliminate the separate districts, dispense with the inspectors, reduce the number of administrative workers and close all small schools in the state-religious and ultra-Orthodox sectors.
4. Total management freedom. School principals will become true managers with their own budgets. They will have the authority to hire teachers, dismiss incompetent ones and give high salaries to "stars." Achievers and excellence will cease being vulgar terms at school.
5. Increased efficiency. Teachers will once more instruct entire classrooms and put in the official hours they are supposed to teach before receiving various income-increment gimmicks and "compensation payments." In other words, elementary school teachers will teach 30 hours per week, and their secondary school counterparts 24. The additional hours will allow the education system to release 20,000 "worn-out," unsuitable teachers, who will start receiving early pension checks.
6. Significant increases in teachers' salaries. After all the above has been implemented - enhanced efficiency, cost-cutting measures and a bigger budget - we must increase teachers' salaries significantly. However, unlike the practice today, raises will not be given in an egalitarian manner, but varied, with school principals exercising their judgment. Teachers will have something to aim for, there will be competitiveness, there will be a desire for excellence. We will end the situation where a salary hike directly results from seniority, not excellence. A revolution with similar underlying principles must also be launched in the universities. They suffer from the same ills as our kindergartens, elementary and secondary schools.
Some might contend that this is utopian, that the plan cannot be implemented, that Shas and United Torah Judaism will object, that any government attempting to even begin moving in this direction will fall. The truth is that nobody was really upset that Israel's standing in the recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exams in reading, mathematics and science has deteriorated to 40th among 57 countries.
The required revolution will not happen tomorrow. But it will surely occur after the disaster arrives - when we discover that, in the next battery of PISA tests, we have plummeted to rock-bottom on the roster of Western countries and that our national existence is in peril. Suddenly the proposed revolution will seem logical and practicable. Not a minute earlier.