The Mask Is Off

The recent publication, for the first time, of complete standardized testing results for Israel's schools has revealed deep societal gaps.

The average score in the Hebrew examination for eighth-graders last year was 537 points in Or Yehuda and 593 points in Givatayim, just a few kilometers away. In mathematics the gap between the towns was 85 points, as it was for the exam in English three years ago.

This is just one example. On Sunday the Education Ministry, for the first time, released the complete results of the Meitzav standardized achievement tests for each school and each community. Until then these figures, which reflect a painful educational truth, were not available to the public. After many years the mask covering the deep gaps in Israeli society was abruptly removed.

The ministry did not publish the figures of its own accord. The Supreme Court, overturning the Jerusalem District Court's rejection of a petition filed by 13 parents, the Movement for Freedom of Information and Hila (the Israel Committee for Equality in Education ) forced it to do so. This fundamental ruling should be studied by all government authorities: The information they possess is not private property. The public's right to information about the conduct of the agencies that are responsible for health, education and welfare and the like trumps nearly all other considerations.

In arguing its opposition to the release of the data the ministry warned it would create "team standings," in which schools are ranked by achievement. It claimed the criticism this ranking would provoke would harm the schools. Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Rivlin, who has since retired, rejected this argument, saying, "Public criticism must not be suppressed, but rather encouraged."

Like the matriculation exam success rates in the various communities, released a few weeks ago, the Meitzav results demonstrate a high correlation between students' socioeconomic backgrounds and their success in school. The heads of the Education Ministry want to keep this information secret so that the agency can perpetuate the semblance of a successful education system.

If the ministry is so worried that rating wars among the schools will hurt underachieving students it should combat this damage through dropout prevention, meaningful aid to schools in disadvantaged communities and a war against the education gap.