Ministry Seeks to Close Glaring School Gaps by Improving Screening of Arab Teachers

Arab teachers will not be required to take the internal exam, but success on the test increases their chances of finding a job in the system

Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
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ORT school in Lod
ORT school in LodCredit: Ofer Vaknin
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

The Education Ministry has changed its methods for evaluating and placing teachers in the Arab community’s schools since test results from the Pisa exams from last December showed large gaps between Hebrew speaking and Arabic speaking students.

The changes were made at the recommendation of a ministry committee established half a year ago to improve the teaching quality in Arab schools, and whose interim recommendations were presented at a joint committee session in the Knesset on Monday.

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The committee, headed by Mohana Faris, the ministry official responsible for national plans, noted that outdated teaching methods and the quality of teachers in Arab schools are major factors increasing inequality.

As a result, it was decided that candidates for teaching math and sciences would be examined by an internal ministry testing and their score would influence their chances of being accepted.

The teachers will not be required to take the internal exam, but success on the test would increase their chances of finding a job in the system.

As opposed to other educational tracks, in which teachers are hired after they pass a personal interview with the school principal, in the Arab educational system the ministry places teachers according to a waiting list.

This method of placement ranks teachers by a number of criteria, including their family situation, years of experience in teaching, academic education and achievements, and their grades on an internal ministry exam.

When a teacher for specific subject is needed in an Arab school, the teacher chosen is the one with the highest ranking in these categories.

About 30 percent of the teachers waiting for placement in Arab schools receive jobs every year, while the wait for placement can sometimes last for years, according to data reported by Haaretz in 2017. In the past school year, about 400 new teachers were hired – along with and another 2,000 teachers who had previously taught in the school system but do not have tenure and have to be rehired every year.

Under the new system, the teachers’ scores on math and science tests will be added to the points awarded as part of their rankings on the waiting list. Math and science are two of the main subjects tested by the international Pisa exams.

It has also been decided to increase give more weight to knowledge of Arabic. Applicants for teaching jobs are also having their interpersonal skills tested, something that wasn’t done in the past.

The new testing and evaluation system began in February, two months after the release of the Pisa exam scores, and they will affect hiring for the coming school year.

A teacher writes on the board during a maths exam at a school in central Israel. Illustration
A teacher writes on the board during a maths exam at a school in central Israel. Illustration Credit: Ilan Assayag

“I believe that this will bring in good teachers to the system in the next school year,” Faris told Haaretz. “In my opinion, it is good news.”

The inequality between Jewish and Arab students in Pisa exams grew significantly in 2018, results released in December show. Even though the scores of Jewish students remained unchanged compared to the previous round of tests in 2015, Arab students’ scores dropped significantly in all subjects.

The range of possible scores on the Pisa tests is 200 to 800. Scores in reading skills among Arabic speakers fell by 29 points compared to 2015.

In sciences the drop was 26 points and in math, 12 points. The study’s authors noted that the gap of some 30 points is equivalent to the skills learned in an entire school year.

The Education Ministry responded to the publication of the scores with surprise, and announced that they would establish a group to examine the curriculum in Arabic language and the use of teaching hours and other resources.

In a joint session of the Knesset Education Committee and the Committee on the Rights of the Child on Monday, a ministry representative said that in addition to the general recommendations, separate teams were established to consider each subject – science, math and native language.

The teams’ members include both Jewish and Arab experts. Their conclusions are due to be completed in the near future, he said.

Unequal funding

MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List), the chairman of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said at the meeting:

“I look at the inequality between Arabs and Jews in the results of the Pisa exams and I see that there are two different countries here. The Jewish students are in a good situation compared to the world average, and the Arab students are at the bottom of the table.

“This is an impossible situation. The pedagogical recommendations are important, but they are not enough to correct the situation. We need an investment in resources and infrastructure, too. I call on the Education Ministry to cooperate with professionals in the Arab community, such as the committee on Arab educational matters, to advance a comprehensive plan that can lead to a correction of this situation.”

Hebrew class in ORT Sallama school in the Bedouin village of Sallama, February 27, 2020
Hebrew class in ORT Sallama school in the Bedouin village of Sallama, February 27, 2020Credit: Rami Shllush

Immediately after the exam scores were released, Dr. Sharaf Hassan, an educator and the chairman of the committee on Arab educational matters, asked the ministry to establish a joint committee to examine the state of Arab education.

The committee on Arab educational matters is a professional body that “represents Arab society in the area of education,” and the ministry has not responded to his request, he said.

“The inequality between Arab education and Hebrew education has been consistent for years, but every time the Education Ministry prefers to find specific solutions instead of dealing with the full picture,” Hassan told Haaretz.

The root of the problem lies in the budgetary inequality between the communities: In the previous school year, the average budget for a student in the Jewish community was 31,639 shekels a year, and in the Arab community it was 24,533 shekels – a difference of 29 percent.

In recent years, the ministry has given greater priority to allocating more teaching hours and other resources in schools whose student bodies include more young people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds – a policy that has had a positive influence on the budgets for Arab schools, whose communitues’ poverty rate is almost 50 percent. But these measures haven’t closed the gaps.