Panel Proposes Ideas for Stanching School Dropout Rate

Fines to be levied on schools that allow students to drop out without justification, a new bureaucracy for locating and aiding dropouts, and 30 vocational training centers - these are the main recommendations presented this week by a professional committee appointed by the Education Ministry in preparation for implementing an amendment to the Compulsory Education Law that extends mandatory schooling through 12th grade.

"The school system is not managing to 'hold onto' its pupils, and loses more than 20,000 dropouts from each graduating class," stated the committee report, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz. "In effect, the education and welfare systems doom them to contend on their own with society and the economy - without providing a proper solution."

The legislative amendment, sponsored by Knesset Education Committee Chairman Michael Melchior (Labor) and passed by the plenum half a year ago, is designed to step up the fight against the dropout rate. It obligates schools, local authorities and the Education Ministry to find an alternative school framework for every dropout. The ministry was legally bound to present Melchior's committee with its plan for implementing the amended law by June 1. Instead, it will apparently be unveiled in another two weeks.

Members of the Education Ministry panel tasked with considering the amendment's ramifications were unable to agree on the basic question of how many dropouts there are, "because of an argument over numbers and definitions," the report said. However, a comparison between the number of 10th-graders two years ago and the number of 12th-graders this year shows that the dropout rate is 8.5 percent among Jews and 11.2 percent among Arabs. The internal dispute led the committee to present Central Bureau of Statistics data on dropouts for grades 9 through 12, but not for first through eighth grades, even though there are nearly 4,000 dropouts in the latter category.

On the process for locating dropouts, the report stated that the system in place at schools, local authorities and the Education Ministry is not at all suited to identifying dropouts in a timely fashion. Each school finds out about its dropouts only when the school year opens, and it takes another six months for the ministry to get the big picture.

The committee recommended setting up a system for locating and helping dropouts that would be a joint effort of the Education Ministry and the Industry, Trade and Employment Ministry. The system's purpose would be "early detection of potential dropouts, based on academic achievement, persistence in studies, social integration and risk behaviors."

Another major recommendation was to define a set of requirements for school principals so that "pupils are given as many options as possible so they remain in school," and "any school that loses a pupil and has not proved that all the options were exhausted would have to repay half of the tuition transferred to it in the dropout year."

Other recommendations were for schools to provide dropouts with vocational tests and training, increase the activity of existing frameworks for dealing with dropouts and hire more counselors and psychologists. In addition, it said, 10 to 15 centers should be created to assist pupils in the process of returning to school, and 30 independent centers should be set up for vocational training, to be operated initially by the three largest school networks in that field - ORT, Amal and AMIT.

The committee also urged fully staffing truancy officer positions, particularly in the Bedouin and Arab sectors, and providing the needed funding for dealing with dropouts from immigrant communities.