Israeli Teachers Who 'Impart Values' Get Bonuses - but What Sectors Benefit Most?

Fifty percent of teachers who received bonuses work in religious-Zionist schools, even though only a fifth of all students in Israel attend these schools.

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The Ministry of Education has announced which schools nationally have done the best at imparting a values education to students, earning the teachers at the schools hefty bonuses. Each teacher will receive between NIS 3,100 ($870) and 8,200 ($2300) depending on where their school placed in the ministry’s ranking.

While it is the current education minister, Shai Piron, who is reaping the kudos for incentivising the teaching of values in the country’s schools, the credit for this project belongs to his predecessor, Gideon Sa’ar. Moreover, critics have said that under the guise of a values education, the initiative, in fact, has encouraged achievement in traditional measures of excellence, the same measures Piron has come out against recently, for example when froze the administering of standardized tests.

While half of the high schools awarded are religious Zionist, only 20 percent of all students in Israel attend religious Zionist schools. The number of non-Jewish schools (Muslim and Christian) awarded is only 24, far lower than their proportion in the population. The teacher bonuses total roughly NIS 50 million ($14 million.)

The Ministry of Education is proud of the bonus project. They claim that it facilitates “learning, education and instillation of values”, as described in a recent letter sent to all schools by deputy director general Michal Cohen. The project is part of the “Oz Letmura” (Courage to Change) agreement that was signed by the Ministries of Finance and Education and the Secondary Schools Teachers Union in 2011. This plan called for rewarding exceptional teachers. A model for granting rewards was established, based on academic achievements as well as education towards social values, as well as on year-by-year improvements made by schools in these areas. Each participating school had to commit to teaching core subjects and the holding of untainted exams.

One reason non-Jewish schools largely failed to make the list has to do with the methodology which gave weight to the rate of enlistment in the military or national service. Israeli Arabs for the most part to do not serve in the Israeli military. Lowering the dropout rate and attending to students with special needs were secondary measures in the calculation.

The Ministry of Education defended the low number of non-Jewish schools on the list saying, “Arab schools were judged in relation to other schools in the Arab sector. Bonuses were based on clear and transparent criteria, aimed at advancing social and community values. Schools that impacted pupils in these areas were the ones selected.”

While ostensibly an award solely for education toward social values, the assessment took into consideration scores on matriculation exams, which is by all accounts a measure of academic achievement rather than social values taught.

“The reward scheme is presented as ‘determined by social values’ but in fact it is set by quantitative measures such as exam marks, which is what drives schools,” said Amnon Rabinovich an education reformer who teaches at Ziv High School in Jerusalem. “A different system needs to be put in place.”

Girls and boys lining up separately for school buses at Tel Aviv’s Zeitlin School, part of the religious-Zionist school system.Credit: Nir Kafri

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