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The Education Ministry Is Ruining Israeli Schools

Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler
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Yifat Shasha-Biton in the Knesset last June
Yifat Shasha-Biton in the Knesset last JuneCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

The K-12 education system has a terminal illness. It has big problems and low achievement. But Israel Teachers Union head Yaffa Ben-David doesn’t even dream of addressing these problems. All she wants to do is get home in one piece.

Ben-David is demanding a large pay increase for beginning teachers and hefty ones for veteran teachers too, on one condition: that the wage hikes apply to all teachers, good and bad alike. That is a demand that will not only not cure the system; it will make it sicker.

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The problem in the education system begins with Israel’s teachers colleges. The bar for admission to teacher programs is very low, as is the level of instruction in many, for both instructional skills and the subjects their students will go on to teach. The colleges accept nearly all applicants, even those with very low Psychometric Entrance Test scores. It’s a business, nothing more. And because teachers aren’t trained properly, they also cannot control their students. Children get up and leave the classroom in the middle of a lesson, they are constantly disruptive and have no qualms about openly insulting teachers. That’s how lessons become chaos in which the kids learn nothing.

Another serious problem is the salary structure, which is determined by seniority, not quality. It’s a system that offers no incentive for excellence and no penalties for failure. Teachers can’t be fired, even if they don’t come to class. It’s a system in which there’s no connection between salary and teacher quality, productivity or the subject they teach. It’s a communist system doomed to fail.

The great reforms that significantly raised teachers’ salaries led to terrible results in terms of achievement, because of the method of remuneration. Good teachers and bad teachers receive the same salary; the good teachers, who put their all into preparing lessons, see their colleagues who don’t even do the minimum receiving an identical salary and they explode. In the end they leave, leaving only the average teachers in the system.

And yet, in the current negotiations as well, Ben-David is hewing to the same line. She demands the same raise for all the teachers, without checking productivity and quality, without proposing higher pay for teachers of subjects in demand such as math, physics, English and computer science. Any private enterprise that would work like that would have gone bankrupt long ago.

Another problem of the education system is its extremely centralized management. Every decision is made by the Education Ministry itself, which suffers from bureaucracy, redundancy and terrifyingly inflated mechanisms. The ministry has unnecessary districts and unnecessary officials, and huge sums of money are wasted. The administrative cost per student is the highest in the Western world.

Parents are also to blame. They control the teachers, who aren’t allowed to do anything: to punish, impose a time-out or even chew out a student. The students have many new rights, but the teachers have none; their hands are tied and they live in constant fear of complaints from parents.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton knows these ills, but has done nothing about them. She doesn’t deal with eliminating layers of management and reducing bureaucracy, she hasn’t given autonomy to principals, she isn’t trying to change the salary structure so that the best teachers are paid more. She also has not endeavored to introduce an alternative employment track involving individual contracts with high pay and without tenure, to create competition for excellence in the system.

Recently, Shasha-Biton presented a shameful plan to cancel matriculation exams in four subjects, which will destroy the little that is left of Bible, history, literature and civics studies in high schools. She is now openly supporting all of Ben-David’s demands, which is the essence of populism. Let’s hope that Shasha-Biton’s first term as education minister will be her last.

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