North Tel Aviv Parents Keep Kids Away From Gifted Class in Poorer Suburb

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The Rokach School in Tel Aviv's Yad Eliyahu neighborhood.Credit: Moti Milroad

The majority of north Tel Aviv parents whose children had been accepted to a class for gifted children have opted not to send them to the school, which is situated in south Tel Aviv.

The situation emerged when the new school year began last week and, of the 22 children registered for the gifted class, only between five and seven showed up. The parents who declined to send their children – all from the more well-off area of north Tel Aviv – gave various reasons. For example, distance from home and the fact that they would be separated from their classmates in the neighborhood. Some expressly objected to the school and surroundings being in the southern part of the city.

Children are selected for the gifted class in second grade, by a series of Education Ministry tests administered by the Szold Institute. These students have two tracks open to them: a separate class for gifted pupils in a regular school; or a center that administers a “weekly enrichment day.”

According to the Education Ministry, the curriculum in the separate class is based on “expanding and deepening the regular educational program, adding enrichment and acceleration,” and creates “encounters between pupils whose abilities are similar, and who enrich each other.”

According to the standard determined by the ministry, the gifted class is limited to a maximum of 26 pupils, compared to a standard of 40 pupils in a regular class. Until this year, the only gifted class in Tel Aviv was operated at the Graetz School in old north Tel Aviv, not far from Rabin Square. As the number of students per class continually increased in recent years, the local municipality and Education Ministry even considered a lottery for places in the class. It then decided to open another class, in the Rokach School in Yad Eliyahu.

According to sources familiar with the details, about 80 gifted pupils were identified to go into third grade this year. Depending on where they lived, students were referred to one of two schools: if they lived north of the Yarkon river, they were to go to Rokach; if living south of the river, to Graetz. According to the plan, there were to have been 40 children in the school’s special classes, and another 40 or so in the “enrichment center” program.

“A few days before the school year started, it turned out that only a small number of the children referred to Rokach would actually be studying there,” one person said. “The parents used all kinds of explanations to backtrack on their original desire for their children to study in the gifted class – distance from home, daily commuting, fear that the children ‘would have trouble finding the protected space’ in case of rocket attack. There were also some who were unhappy about the fact the school was in Yad Eliyahu,” which is a poorer neighborhood.

In light of the harsh criticism the Education Ministry has received because of overcrowded classrooms, some of the sources say there is no justification for a class of only five to seven children. “Even if they are gifted, it’s just not fair,” one source said.

According to the annual OECD report on education, published last week, 27 is the average classroom size in Israel. In an international comparison, Israel is among the countries with the largest number of students per class; only China, Chile and Japan have more crowded classrooms.

Haaretz reported a few years ago that some 91 percent of gifted children at Graetz (grades 3–6) came from north and central Tel Aviv.

The Tel Aviv municipality responded that it “considers the opening of a gifted class in the southern part of the city to be very important, in a quality school with high achievements. The Education Ministry has also recognized the importance, even at the cost of establishing a class smaller than standard. The gifted class at Rokach will continue throughout the year, with students deciding not to attend placed back in their neighborhood schools. The city believes that the proper place for gifted students is Rokach, and we invite parents to register their children for the class immediately after the holidays.

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