Israel’s Religious Schools Get Highest Grades for 2013-14

Government religious and Haredi schools punch above their weight, but also tend to have smaller classes and to screen applicants.

Yarden Skop
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High school students in Ramat Gan take their math matriculation exam, May 20, 2015.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Yarden Skop

Once again, Jewish religious schools were overrepresented on the Education Ministry’s ranking of public secondary schools with outstanding achievements in the 2014-15 school year. The number of schools on the list rose to 261 schools, from 208 the preceding year.

This is the third annual publication of this index, which is part of the Oz Letmurah education reform program launched in 2011. It takes into account not just high achievement, but also improvement in these areas over the previous year. Teachers in the schools on the list receive a one-time bonus of between 3,094 shekels ($812) and 8,252 shekels, depending on their school’s ranking on a scale of 1 to 4. A total of 50 million shekels in bonuses are awarded each year.

Of the 63 schools that received the top ranking, 28 (44 percent) were Jewish religious schools, up from 36 percent last year. Of all the schools on the list, 34 percent were religious, even though religious high schools make up only 20 percent of all Israeli high schools. Appearing on the list for the first time are schools that are part of the state-Haredi district established by former Education Minister Shay Piron. Of the 10 such schools on the list, however, most are former state-religious schools that chose to affiliate with the ultra-Orthodox school system.

In contrast, Arab high schools were underrepresented on the list. The list includes only 36 Arab-language schools (14 percent of the total) appear, of which four are Druze, 25 are Arab (including private church schools) and seven are Bedouin.

The results have raised the question of whether the index isn’t weighted to the benefit of (Jewish) state-religious schools. The overwhelming majority of religious high schools are either for boys or for girls, schools, which means the classes tend to be smaller than in nonreligious state schools. Many religious schools also screen prospective students before admitting them.

“There’s a problem with the indexes. Based on the results it seems as if there’s some bias in favor of a particular sector. I’ve already contacted the Education Ministry about this, and they told me they had looked into it, but the results aren’t in yet,” said the head of the secondary school principals association, Menashe Levy.

He stressed that this wasn’t an issue of “sour grapes,” and that his school was on the list. That brought up another problem, however: “In my school, for example, which is a six-year school, only the high-school teachers receive a bonus, not the junior-high teachers, even though it’s actually the same school. I’ve contacted the ministry about this as well. They have to find more money to prevent this split,” Levy said.

Educational achievement takes into consideration the percentage of students earning a bagrut matriculation certificate, the average grades on the bagrut exams, the quality of the bagrut certificates and the extent to which students are advanced according to their abilities, aside from the bagrut dimension. Teachers are rewarded for excellence in humanities instruction as well as in math and the sciences. Also included are integrity of testing and the quality of evaluation procedures at the school.

Social achievement include dropout prevention and how close disadvantaged students come to earning bagrut certificate. Ethical achievement includes the mainstreaming of special-needs students and the percentage of the school’s graduates who pursue military or civilian national service. As the data become available, the ministry will also determine the percentage of graduates from each school who go on to enroll in premilitary academies and to contribute to society in other ways.

“It should be stressed that schools in the non-Jewish sectors, whose graduates volunteer for military or civilian service, are not penalized for their low numbers; every school in each sector is compared solely to other schools in its sector,” the Education Ministry said in a statement.

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