Most Schools That Need It, Don't Get Long Day

Only about half of the elementary schools that introduced a long school day cater to poor children, and 57 percent of all Israeli schools with financially disadvantaged populations are not included in the project, according to new findings by the Education Ministry.

The government a month ago approved another delay in implementing the long school day project, as part of the Economic Arrangements Bill (supplementary legislation for the annual state budget). Under that decision, which awaits Knesset approval, full implementation will be postponed to 2014.

According to Education Minister Yuli Tamir, if additional funding is available, weaker schools will be given preference in future in joining the project. She added, however, that relatively strong schools included in recent years for various reasons would continue to receive this service.

The Long School Day Law, passed in 1997, extends the school week to 41 hours, compared with 35 hours today: four days of at least eight hours, one mid-week day of five hours, and four hours on Friday.

Implementation was gradual, beginning in 1998 with 500 elementary schools in 100 communities. Another five communities were added in 2004. To date, the law's implementation has reached 578 schools. Last year Tamir extended the law's coverage to 1,150 kindergartens.

The law applies to schools located as follows: "In neighborhoods requiring educational welfare and rehabilitation, in communities with top national priority designation and along the confrontation line, in communities identified as having high unemployment, and in communities in the first two groupings on the social-welfare index at local education authorities."

However, the Education Ministry has found that out of 574 elementary schools with a long school day, 50.7 percent belong to a low socioeconomic level. The rate of middle-class schools is 42.9 percent, and that of upper-class schools is 6.4 percent.

Schools' socioeconomic levels were measured according to the Strauss Index, which is based on criteria such as parental education, annual income, country of birth or parents or pupils, and geographic location. The lower a school's score, the stronger its pupils' background.

The results indicate that only 43 percent of elementary schools with weak backgrounds operate a long day, and 25 percent of mid-range schools.

State religious schools offer a long day at a rate (23.2 percent) proportionately greater than their share of total elementary schools (17.5 percent).

A long school day currently affects 204,000 pupils, which represents 24.6 percent of elementary-school children and 14 percent of all pupils in grades 1 through 12.

The project is budgeted at NIS 320 million annually, mainly to cover the cost of 395,000 additional classroom hours.

Education Ministry officials said this was the first time since the law passed a decade ago that an effort was made to see which schools ultimately benefit from it - and that the matter needs some rethinking.