1 in 3 Preschoolers Attends ultra-Orthodox Kindergarten

Every third Jewish kindergartner in Israel attended a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) kindergarten last year, according to data published by the Education Ministry yesterday.

Another 47 percent learned in state secular schools and 20 percent in state religious schools.

By comparison, only 26 percent of Jewish kindergartners attended Haredi schools in 2001, while 53 percent attended state secular schools. The growth of the Haredi school population at the expense of secular schools has been ongoing steadily for years.

Nonetheless, the Education Ministry employs only four inspectors to see whether Haredi elementary schools are teaching the core curriculum. These inspectors are responsible for overseeing 615 schools with some 170,000 students.

During the 2008-09 school year, the ministry's inspectors concluded that compliance with the core curriculum requirements was almost 100 percent.

However, ministry officials admitted that this finding is less than reliable, since it is based almost exclusively on reports about their curriculum submitted by the schools themselves.

"Sometimes the inspectors enter a few classrooms to see for themselves, but there's no chance of covering the entire Haredi education system," one official said.

Moreover, the ministry failed to fine a single one of the schools that did admit to not teaching the core curriculum fully.

Five years ago, the High Court of Justice ruled that private Haredi schools must teach some proportion of the core curriculum, with the percentage depending on the amount of funding they receive from the state. Most ultra-Orthodox schools receive anywhere from 55 to 100 percent of the funding given to state schools.

Since then, however, the ministry has failed to develop mechanisms for supervising and enforcing this rule.

The ministry said yesterday that it "intends to improve supervision over implementation of the core curriculum."

Of the ministry's four ultra-Orthodox inspectors, two are assigned to the Hinuch Atzma'i school system, which has some 75,000 elementary school students and is affiliated with the United Torah Judaism Party, while a third is assigned to Ma'ayan Hahinuch Hatorani, which has 25,700 elementary school students and is affiliated with Shas. These two school systems, which together include some 320 elementary schools, receive 100 percent public funding and are thus required to teach the full core curriculum. The last inspector is responsible for some 24,500 students in the "recognized but unofficial" elementary schools, which are funded at the 75 percent level.

No inspector at all is assigned to the so-called "exempt" schools, which teach the remaining 45,000 Haredi pupils, even though these elementary schools are funded at the 55 percent level.