Municipal Association Says Opening Up School Choices Would Widen Social Gaps

The Union of Local Authorities in Israel is against the Education Ministry's plan to open up school registration zones for elementary and middle schools. In a letter it sent on Thursday to Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, the association of municipalities called the plan "a dangerous trap that will ultimately lead to greater social gaps in Israel" and demanded that it be withdrawn.

According to a number of sources, Education Ministry Director General Shimshon Shoshani last week approved a pilot plan to introduce the change in the 2011-2012 school year in around 10 communities. The participating localities will be selected in the next few weeks.

saar - Alon Ron - January 10 2011
Alon Ron

Enrollment in state elementary schools is generally determined by the student's area of residence. Under the pilot program, all elementary and junior-high schools within each of the participating communities would be united in a single joint registration zone, as explained in a circular issued by Shoshani last month and reported in Haaretz.

Opening the registration zones will enable parents to choose their children's school from among several options, with Education Ministry oversight. The new guidelines are to be issued in the near future, and the ministry is inviting local authorities to volunteer for the pilot program.

"We wish to express our displeasure with and reservations over the Education Ministry decision to open the registration zones," wrote Union of Local Authorities Chairman and Ma'alot-Tarshiha Mayor Shlomo Buhbut and the chairman of the organization's education committee, Ra'anana Mayor Nahum Hofri, in their letter to Sa'ar.

"This is a unilateral decision that was not coordinated with the local authorities, which are responsible for school registrations. Therefore, it is impossible to expect the local authorities to carry out a directive whose formulation they were not a party to."

Buhbut and Hofri noted that while the ministry's plan requires schools to accept students with difficulties, amounting to 15 percent of total enrollment, they feared that this directive would not be met.

"We are concerned, and there is a solid basis for this concern, that ways of bypassing this condition will be found, and in the end we will face a reality where the schools will do everything in order to attract only the strong students. In this way, expanding the registration zones will widen the gap between the strong and the weak and will make a negative contribution to equal opportunity for all," the Union of Local Authorities officials wrote.

According to Buhbut and Hofri, rather than encouraging schools to improve by forcing them to compete among themselves, as Shoshani and other Education Ministry officials claim, the plan is likely to push the schools "to work in other ways, not necessarily appropriate from an educational perspective, to attract primarily the strong students." They noted that this method was tried in the past in Tel Aviv and scrapped.

The Education Ministry said in a response that this is a voluntary pilot program and that participating local authorities will be vetted by the ministry.