Secret Education Ministry Study: 82 Percent of Elementary Schools Focus on Test Results at Expense of Core Subjects

Almost none of Israel's elementary schools teach the required amount of core studies established by the Education Ministry, according to a ministry report obtained by Haaretz.

The confidential report found that 82 percent of elementary schools scale down study hours intended for core subjects, mainly in Israeli studies, history, geography, arts and physical education.

The schools use most of the state funds intended for core subjects for other subjects, on which pupils are examined "externally" and by which the schools are graded and measured.

"This causes the pupils direct damage, as they are not taught the required national curriculum," the report concludes.

Prof. Ofra Meisels, head of the University of Haifa's education department, has warned "success in exams has turned into the main value. Not only is this detrimental to those subjects but to the spirit of education and its goals. Instead of [education] opening treasures of knowledge to the pupils, they are taught how to succeed in tests."

The report obtained by Haaretz - examining the standards in elementary and middle school education - is seen as one of the best-kept secrets in the Education Ministry.

The study focuses on the schools' allocation of core study hours and how they correspond to the ministry's funding and instructions regarding the subjects.

The report finds, among other things, that 52 percent of the schools use state funds earmarked for assisting weak students and new immigrants for other purposes, and 35 percent of elementary school teachers do not teach subjects they were trained in and are qualified to teach.

The report was conducted two years ago among 337 elementary schools and 91 middle schools in the state system (including secular, Jewish-religious and Arab schools).

A report from last year was recently completed with similar findings, education officials said.

The State Comptroller's Office has also examined the use of instruction hours recently and is expected to publish its findings soon.

The Education Ministry allocated a minimum number of instruction hours for core studies in elementary schools several years ago. Every school must fill this quota with teachers who are government employees, not instructors funded by non-governmental bodies which are not similarly supervised.

The report finds that some 75 percent of the schools failed to provide three weekly hours of core studies in at least one of the required age groups. About 70 percent of schools did not teach the required hours of art (two weekly hours - mainly music or drawing) and some 63 percent did not teach compulsory programs like "life skills" (health and safety - two weekly hours). Some 13 percent of the schools did not teach at least one core subject.

"These irregularities have repercussions on the gaps in the material taught in schools and on pupils' inferior achievements," the report states.

A veteran Tel Aviv school principal said the Education Ministry's budget for teaching hours had been cut.

"When we have the Meitzav (Measure of Efficiency and Growth in Schools) by which we are measured hovering in the background, every decision on allocating resources is difficult," the principal said. "Of course I'd like to teach many hours of history and art, but in reality we are judged by the marks in arithmetic, Hebrew language and sciences."

Meisels, however, says the ministry's policy that emphasizes measuring the pupils' achievements "may appear very reasonable and convincing, but it has severe implications all over the world. The schools focus only on the subjects by which the school is 'measured' and consider everything else much less important. Thus studies become merely a means to do well in tests. This approach can be seen in high schools, where success in matriculation exams is more important than knowing the material. Now it seems that these processes have spilled over to elementary schools as well."

The Education Ministry said that as of next school year it will take disciplinary measures against principals who have been reprimanded in the past for failing to use the hours allocated by the ministry for their designated purpose.