The Only Thing Left Is the Raise

Following eight months of negotiations, the teachers succeeded in reaching a new wage agreement with the Finance Ministry.

Following eight months of negotiations, the teachers succeeded in reaching a new wage agreement with the Finance Ministry yesterday. The deal involves some 90,000 elementary school teachers, while the 30,000 secondary school teachers are continuing their strike and labor sanctions.

"This is a day of celebration for the school system, and a turning point," said Education Minister Yuli Tamir. So she says. Senior sources in the Prime Minister's Office said this is a veritable revolution "the likes of which we have not seen in the school system, and is expected to elevate Israeli students to the top ranks internationally." Really?

The agreement involves a 26-percent raise to be spread over six years. A few days ago, the red line stood at 22 percent, but the prime minister intervened, seeking to present the public with some sort of success amid the torrent of criticism, and this led to the breakthrough.

The most significant change will be in the salaries of first-year teachers. Instead of the current NIS 3,900 per month, they will receive NIS 5,300 per month. The wage scale will also change, and it will be based on professional evaluations, with better teachers advancing rather than veteran teachers. A veteran teacher, after 10 to 15 years, will earn NIS 11,500 a month - similar to a civil servant with a university degree.

It is certainly an appropriate wage increase, but is this also an appropriate reform?

To achieve such a reform, several principles must be preserved. One - spread out the power. The Education Ministry must cease being a huge monopoly full of conflicts of interest. It must also cease running the school system while being the teachers' employer and supervisor. This does not work. It must only be the regulator that sets policy and standards. There is no mention of any of this in the "reform."

Another issue is granting principals the administrative flexibility to select the better teachers, push out those who are unsuitable, raise the wages of those who excel and take full responsibility for the school budget. The reform deals with this issue, but not fully. The flexibility of principals has improved, but they cannot dismiss teachers at will or grant raises to good teachers. The Education Ministry supervisors will continue to pester the principals, and the ministry will not grant them authority because this conflicts with its interests.

A third issue is the efficiency of the system, which is burdened with many layers of management: the headquarters in Jerusalem, the regional administrations, the municipal administrations, and the school administration. The cost of this bureaucracy is much higher than what is acceptable in the West.

The Dovrat Committee, which was sunk by the teachers, recommended greater efficiency, which means the closing of teaching colleges and academies, doing away with the district system, dismissing supervisors and other employees, retiring 15,000 teachers, and significantly increasing the number of teaching hours. None of this is mentioned in the "reform." There will not be greater efficiency, and no significant number of teachers will be retiring. That is all. The rest will be "office hours" and selective working hours, which will go into effect when "the physical conditions in the schools allow for this - in other words, never.

"Office hours" are a dangerous boomerang. One of the advantages of the profession is the flexible work hours - the school day ends at noon, and the rest of the work is done at home, during the teachers' free time. But if teachers have to stay in school until 3 P.M., this significant advantage will cease to exist, and then they may prefer to work for the municipality or the bank. And what happened to the demand that every teacher hold a bachelor's degree as well as a teaching certificate?

The principles of "the reform" are too much like the "reform" that took place under the Yitzhak Rabin government in 1993-94. Then too they talked about change that would bring about a revolution in education, but in the end the only thing that came of it was increased wages. Everyone got a raise, irrespective of whether they were good or bad at their jobs, and this damaged the morale of good, dedicated teachers.

That was not a genuine reform. The Education Ministry remained unchanged. The standing of teachers improved, their quality did not, and the achievements of pupils continue to drop. Will we learn our lesson? It does not appear so.