OECD Charts Worrying Pay Gap Among Israeli Teachers

Low pay for starting teachers is making recruitment difficult and harming teaching standards, report argues

A protest by Israeli teachers.
Tomer Appelbaum

Pay for Israeli teachers has risen sharply since 2005, but the extra money has gone mostly into the hands of veteran teachers while new ones are severely underpaid compared to their peers in other developed countries.

That is what figures from the latest survey on education by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, released on Tuesday, showed.

Between 2005 and 2018, pay for elementary school teachers in Israel has jumped 40%, for junior high teachers by 50% and for pre-school teachers by 55%, the OECD said in its “Education at a Glance” report.

But new teachers haven’t shared nearly as much as their older colleagues in the pay increase. The gap in pay between a starting teacher and one about to retire was a yawning 150% at the elementary school level and 140% at the high school level in 2018. By comparison, the average pay gap for OECD countries was just 70%.

Students at the opening of the school year, in Israel.
Dudu Bachar

The figures come amid growing concern about the quality of teachers entering the school system in Israel, as well as the country’s persistent lagging performance in student achievement versus other developed countries.

Demand for teachers has risen sharply as has the number of student getting teaching degrees. However, the academic standards for those accepted into teacher’s colleges has fallen in order to enroll enough students. Government figures show that the average score on the psychometric exam for students enrolled at teacher’s colleges was 488 last year, compared with a national average for all students of 548.

Critics say that low starting pay deters the best and brightest from pursuing a teaching career. The Bank of Israel warned last month that poor schools were hurting the economy by leaving Israelis with poor work skills and cutting their level of labor productivity.

It recommended that the government change that by closing the gap in spending per student between Israel and the OECD average, and increasing the education budget by 13 billion shekels ($3.66 billion) annually in 2018 terms. It said that extra spending should go to improving teaching.

Education Minister Rafi Peretz meets first year pupils in a school in Modi'in, central Israel.
Ilan Assayag

The OECD report said that starting pay for teachers in Israel was also appreciably less than the average for other OECD countries. For instance, starting pay for an Israeli nursery school teacher was 22% less than the OECD average. However, for a preschool teacher with the maximum number of years experience, pay was 25% more than the average.

At other levels, the pay gap was less pronounced between the newest and most veteran teachers. Starting Israeli elementary school teachers got on average 37% than their OECD counterparts, but the most veteran Israeli teachers were getting just 3% less.

Some of that gap should have been closed since last year – although not much: A new collective labor agreement for junior high and high school teachers went into effect this year, under which a starting teacher will earn a gross 8,300 shekels a month. That will still leave starting teachers in Israel way behind their OECD colleagues, whose average pay is the equivalent of 16,500 shekels a month on average.

In general, except for those with the most seniority, Israeli teachers get paid far less than their peers in developed countries. At the high school level, for example, starting pay for an Israeli teacher in 2018 was 7,950 shekels a month, compared with 16,700 on average in the OECD.

After 15 years, the gap narrowed to 11,800 versus 17,500, but only at the end of a teacher’s career can he or she expect to nearly close the gap. Then the average salary is 19,350 in Israel and 21,400 on average across the OECD.

Despite that, Israeli teachers worked more hours than the OECD average – 843 over the course of the year, compared with 783. On the other hand, they spent fewer hours on other duties, so that their total work hours were just 1,235, versus an OECD average 1,612.

Another key area where Israeli education is lacking is in preschool. The OECD report found that Israel was in last place among surveyed countries for spending on schooling up to age 3; for ages 3-5, Israel was in 29th place among 31 countries for spending.

Although research has shown that preschool education is critical for children’s success later in life, Israel spends just $2,971 per child up to age 3, compared with $12,080 on average across the OECD. Meantime, Israel is overly reliant on private spending, which accounts for 84% of the costs versus an OECD average of 31% up to age 3. Many young children stay at home.

At ages 3-5, spending grows to $5,470 per child in Israel, but that is a third less than the $8,140 OECD average.