School Drop-out Rates Fall in Israel but Remain Higher Among Arabs

Knesset study finds that Arab students from low socioeconomic groups receive less funding than their Jewish counterparts

High school students in Ashdod take an exam, May 20, 2019.
\ Ilan Assayag

Israel’s high school dropout rate has dropped significantly in the past decade, yet large disparities exist among different social groups, says a study being published on Wednesday by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel.

The study tracked 10th-graders to see how many remained through 12th grade. The date showed that in 2008, the overall dropout rate was 10.1 percent, and in 2017 it was down to 7.6 percent – a 25-percent decrease. Excluding figures for the ultra-Orthodox community (for which the Education Ministry has only partial data), the picture is even more positive, showing a decreased from an eight-percent dropout rate a decade ago to a 4.5 percent in 2017.

But there are large disparities among ethnic groups. In the Bedouin community, the dropout rate is 9.6 percent, in the Arab community as a whole it is 8 percent, and in the Jewish state and state-religious school systems it is just 4 percent. However, the higher dropout rates in the Bedouin and Arab communities mark a notable improvement over a decade ago, when those dropout rates were over 15 percent.

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The dropout rates for boys and girls were quite different too. The dropout figure for boys fell from 7.1 percent in 2008 to 1.3 percent in 2017, a 40-percent drop. A similar decrease occurred among girls, though the dropout rate for them was much lower to begin with. It fell from 6 percent a decade ago to 3.7 percent in 2017. In Arab society, the gap between the dropout rates for boys and girls was found to be even larger. Dropout numbers in that community are 11 percent for boys and less than 5 percent for girls.

“The data on dropout rates can be viewed from two perspectives,” wrote the study’s authors Nachum Blass, Guy Yanay and Hadas Fuchs. “There’s the optimistic view that emphasizes the notable improvement that has occurred in the last years, and the more pessimistic view that points to the persistence of the dropout phenomenon and the way it is concentrated in specific population groups.”

“The past decade was good for the education system,” said Blass. “You always hear people say that a lot of money is being invested without results – but here we have the results. Someone who doesn’t finish high school is often doomed to a life of poverty and marginalization, so the importance of the reduction in the dropout rate must be recognized.” Still, the disparities among different population groups are still striking, and Blass said the Education Ministry must work to reduce them. “The system can be proud of its achievements in preventing kids from dropping out, but it’s not enough.”

In recent years, the Education Ministry has begun implementing a policy of differential funding that grants precedence in the distribution of classroom hours and other resources to schools where students come from weaker socioeconomic backgrounds. But inequality persists. A Knesset study that was published this week found that an Arab student from a low socioeconomic group receives less funding compared to a Jewish student in a parallel socioeconomic group.

Also, to date, the differential funding policy is only being implemented in elementary and middle schools.