TA's Gifted Program: Mostly for the Rich

The gifted and talented classes in Tel Aviv's Graetz school are the only framework for gifted children at the elementary school level. The classes, which go from the third to the sixth grade, are open to all children in the city identified as gifted by the Education Ministry and the Szold Institute. But a Haaretz investigation determined that 89 of the program's 98 students live in the six well-off northern and central districts, while only nine come from the three poorer southern and eastern districts.

Of these nine, five live in relatively well-off neighborhoods within these less advantaged districts.

The classes for gifted students at Graetz offer a curriculum that is both deeper and broader than the equivalent "regular" classes, as well as a faster learning pace. "Less time is devoted to acquiring knowledge and more to deepening, broadening and developing thinking skills, advanced teaching methods to encourage learning and independent research; also, universities are incorporated via enrichment classes, study days and the like," an Education Ministry official explained.

About a dozen communities in Israel, most in the greater Tel Aviv area, have gifted classes from third through twelfth grades, with a total of 2,617 students. Graetz students can continue on to a gifted class in high school or return to the regular educational framework. According to a Knesset Research and Information Center report, there is not a single gifted class in the Arab school sector. According to the Tel Aviv municipality, gifted students in the city's Arab and state religious schools participate in after-school programs rather than studying in separate classes, and in any event their number is relatively small.

There are three educational enrichment programs: gifted and talented classes within regular schools, weekly enrichment days and after-school enrichment programs. Since 1984, the Henrietta Szold Institute (the National Institute for Research in the Behavioral Sciences) has been responsible for identifying gifted children in Israel. The findings published here indicate that the institution's screening tests discriminate in favor of children from higher socioeconomic levels in communities with large gaps between rich and poor.

Gifted students are identified throughout the country in two stages. Between 1.5 and 3 percent of the highest-scoring students are selected to participate in the enrichment programs.

"It's not possible to institute affirmative action for children from south Tel Aviv," the director of the Education Ministry's Department for Gifted Students, Shlomit Rachmel, said. "We work in accordance with local norms, not on the neighborhood level. If there is a big gap between groups of gifted students, a heterogenous group will be formed that will change the essence of the program. We are preparing to develop a range of tools that will examine not only learning ability but also motivation and creativity, and using them, we will reach the population that is underrepresented in the gifted programs."

The head of Tel Aviv's Department of Primary Education, Hani Broderson, is not comfortable with the current situation. "These figures have been bothering me for a long time," she said. "I do not believe that IQ drops when people move to south Tel Aviv. The problem is that all of Tel Aviv is a single testing area, despite the great difference among the neighborhoods. Together with the Education Ministry, we have considered ways to increase the representation of students from the south of the city. One possibility was to define the gifted students from the south separately from those of the north and to guarantee a place for them at Graetz, but then it turned out there were large gaps between the two groups."

According to a source who is familiar with the tests used by the Szold Institute, "there is no doubt that children who receive more nurturing at home will do better on the tests."