Plan Would Cut Class Size to 32 Students

The number of students per class in grades 7-10 is to fall to 32, and each year an additional class is to be added to grade levels in junior and senior high schools, according to the latest draft of a report by the committee dealing with overcrowded classrooms.

The report also proposes dividing classes into groups of 20 in grades 1 and 2 for reading, writing and arithmetic lessons.

Arguments between representatives of the Secondary School Teachers Association (SSTA), senior Education Ministry officials and various Finance Ministry officials have reportedly delayed release of the report for more than six weeks.

The government's agreement to smaller class sizes helped bring an end to the teachers strike earlier in the school year. The government said the reduction will take 10 years to implement, and will cost some NIS 2.3 billion.

The committee working on the report is headed by Professor Itzhak Friedman, the former head of the Szold Institute. Its members include Shulamit Amichai, director general of the Education Ministry, SSTA head Ran Erez, and treasury officials.

According to the draft report, obtained by Haaretz, the first schools to enjoy smaller classes will be selected by four criteria: low socio-eonomic background; low scores on nation-wide achievement tests; principals' ability to effect the necessary changes; and availability of human resources and physical premises.

The Education Ministry says an additional 8,000 classrooms will have to be built. The draft report states that although not every additional class will require new construction, billions of shekels will have to be spent.

The report states that "exact information on the physical premises of the schools dates from 1993."

The committee is basing its recommendations on a sampling of 30 schools of various levels.

Among the possibilities the committee is discussing for smaller classes are dividing 40-child classes into two or more groups, or two teachers in the same classroom simultaneously. Another proposal is for a multi-age class "homogenous in its educational abilities" - mainly for the lower grades. However one Education Ministry official said this might lead to the side-lining of weaker students.

Earlier draft reports show that a proposal to split the third grade in the Arab sector was dropped.

Erez said the report was delayed due to the intervention of Education Minister Yuli Tamir. "The minister did not wait until we finished our work, but determined that the reduction would take place over a 10-year period, while we recommended a six- to seven-year period," he said. Erez added that the Teachers Union, consisting mainly of elementary school teachers, is pressuring that the number of high schools in the program be reduced in favor of elementary schools.

The Education Ministry says 38.7 percent of junior highs have 36 students or more per class, as opposed to 21 percent of high schools, and 12.4 percent of elementary schools.

"We have no objection to the Teachers Union enjoying the benefits the SSTA obtained in our fight, although they did not contribute to it." Erez said.

In response, Teachers Union head Yossi Wasserman said: "What is important is the result. I received a promise from Minister Tamir that the plan will be implemented equally in elementary and older grades."

Meanwhile, the treasury contends that it is unclear whether the decision to implement the reduction in 500 schools is within the budgetary limitations set by the government. The treasury said until the Education Ministry produces up-to-date figures on physical infrastructure, the number of new classrooms needed remains unknown.

"The committee has not finished its work," the Education Ministry told Haaretz. When it does, the ministry's policy will be presented in the spirit of the committee's recommendations."