School Daze

Education Minister Yuli Tamir is apparently unwilling to internalize the fact that the problem in the school system is not budgetary.

It is impossible to compete with the goodness of heart of Education Minister Yuli Tamir. Immediately upon assuming the position, she set out two clear goals: a hot meal for every child, so that "not a single child will remain hungry," and preventing the dismissal of 1,000 teachers.

The representatives of the teachers who were invited to her inaugural ceremony were very impressed. Ran Erez, chairman of the Association of Secondary School Teachers, said: "Today we are smiling and looking ahead with hope and joy." Is it any wonder? After all, Tamir is rejecting the Dovrat Commission report, but is willing to adopt the "reform" organized by the teachers for themselves.

The mayor of Betar Illit, the largest Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) settlement in the territories, was also happy: "For me, Tamir's appointment is a cause for celebration," he said. "Now our children will also receive a hot meal."

In October 2005, the Supreme Court, in a panel headed by Justice Mishael Cheshin, decided that extremist Haredi educational institutions, which have chosen to remain outside the recognized Haredi education system, would not be entitled to receive meals from the state. But Tamir is kinder than Cheshin. She is not demanding that they institute a "core curriculum" - no history, civics, mathematics, science or English. She is not urging them to equip their children with a modern toolbox that suits a life of work and productivity. But she is willing to give them everything, even lunches. Encouragement for a non-Zionist and nonproductive group that has contempt for government institutions.

Tamir's preoccupation with the school lunch program has gone beyond the bounds of logic. Instead of talking about ways to improve the level of achievement, the level of teaching, the level of the teachers and the sum total of knowledge, she is talking about renewing the school lunch program - which has already failed once, and was therefore ended about 30 years ago. Should the schools turn into restaurants? Is it right to invest NIS 2 billion a year in hot meals, or is it preferable to equip the schools with advanced computer rooms? Do Israeli children really have no food at home? If so, how do they exist during the long vacations?

Tamir announced that she wants the budget surplus to be used as additional funds for education. But this surplus was created as a result of the policies of former finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom she firmly rejects. If we had adopted the policy that she is outlining - more expenditures and more government waste - the economy would be in deep crisis today, without money in the coffers either for education or for welfare.

Tamir is apparently unwilling to internalize the fact that the problem in the school system is not budgetary. Many studies have proven that the expenditure per pupil in Israel is higher than in most Western countries. Professor Victor Lavie, an economist and a consultant to the Ministry of Education, says that Israel is one of the world leaders in terms of national spending for education, but near the bottom of the charts in terms of achievements. Dr. Dan Ben David calculated that we could save NIS 3.5 billion in the budget without harming the level of education. And what about the cost of the bureaucracy in the Ministry of Education, which is the highest in the world?

Everyone knows that the school system in Israel in wasteful and inefficient. There are many superfluous colleges, seven districts that should be closed down, 800 superfluous supervisors, and superfluous layers of administration: the Education Ministry, the municipalities, the districts and the schools. Everyone also knows that a school principal cannot do his job, because he cannot compensate a good teacher or get rid of a bad one. In other words, there is still a great deal to do and a great deal to cut before waving the banner of preventing the dismissal of teachers.

But Tamir listens and laughs. She knows what the public likes, and that is what she is giving it, in large doses. She is promising everyone more and more. She has even already managed to promise students that they will take the bagrut (matriculation) exams with open books and a direct connection to the Internet. Who needs more than that? They will "copy-and-paste" and receive excellent scores on the exams.

The only problem is - that at the end of her term, when the comparative international tests are held, it will turn out that we have once again been left far behind. But not to worry. Tamir is already preparing her alibi: the Finance Ministry. It did not provide her with the needed additions to the budget, and therefore it is to blame - who else?