The Reform's Breech Birth

If anyone was wondering why the chances of implementation of the Dovrat Commission's report on educational reforms are fading, two admissions were made in the past two weeks that explain everything. The first was made by Prof. Ruth Kalinov, who was the commission's expert on feasibility calculations. The commission had erred in its calculations, she said, and it is not possible to carry out the reform with the budgets at its disposal. In her estimate, the reform requires an additional investment of about NIS 2 billion a year, or about NIS 10 billion in the five years of the planned implementation.

Kalinov confirmed the contention voiced long ago in this column, namely, that the report fails to budget enough money for a natural childbirth of reform, and thus it can look forward to a dangerous breech birth. The commission deceived itself into believing that its pit of recommendations would be filled all by itself, mainly through the dismissals of teachers; like Egyptian taskmasters, they don't provide straw, but assume the bricks are going to be made.

It is exceedingly bizarre that a commission chaired by a successful businessman and administrator like Shlomo Dovrat would be tripped up - and trip up others - because of a flawed database.

The second important admission was made by Education Ministry director-general Ronit Tirosh. She openly stated that her ministry erred when it did not include the teachers from the outset in the complex task, which then got mired in the mud. This is not an innocent mistake, but a premeditated act: the offices of the minister and the director-general had weighed the possibility, and concluded that the teachers were unneeded because they would have their own interests at heart. Who needed them on the "national task force"? They would only sabotage the effort. The ministry decided to start the "revolution" without them.

You can't do without the teachers, but you can most certainly do without the Dovrat Commission. There was no need for it, and not only because of the bad reputation of commissions. Every person in Israel, from education minister to the last teacher and student and parent, knows exactly what needs to be done to fix the educational system. If forms were handed out to hundreds of thousands of citizens asking them to write down their recommendations, we would receive practically identical answers without wrestling with the problem for months on end and wasting time.

Is there anyone who doesn't know that it is recommended to reduce the number of pupils in the overflowing classrooms; that it would be wise to extend the Free Compulsory Education Law to boys and girls from the age of three, before they have had a chance to fall behind; that only a long school day with proper pedagogical and physical conditions would make it possible to grant children more and not less, as is happening in the Netanyahu-Livnat era, after a series of 15 unprecedented budget cuts. And mainly, 150,000 proficient educators are not about to get up one fine morning and start to head in the right direction.

So who needed a commission? Someone who did not want or who could not get down to work right away. It is easier to appoint a "national task force" and wait, than to roll up one's sleeves, another cut pushed by the finance minister, to whom the education minister responds with a peculiarly bowed head.

Assuming that among us are those who did not know what needed to be done to rescue the education system that has run aground, they could know - the minister and her director-general most certainly could have known - had they taken the trouble to read the two reform programs drawn up by the teachers themselves. The implementation of one of them ("Oz Letmura") even began five years ago, and was a proven success. But the education minister was less interested in reform and more interested in a reform of her own, named after her - "the Livnat revolution." She only failed to take into account that there are no free revolutions, and you don't go out to war without soldiers.

It isn't too late yet. The education minister can save the situation if she wastes no time and summons the teachers' representatives and proposes: Let's forget Dovrat and his commission and go back to square one. Bring me your plans - I've heard only the nicest things about them - and we'll set out together. Here are the real budgets that I managed to get hold of, these are the exact numbers, no bluffing, and as partners we will put our heads together and thing what we can do next year and what will happen in the years after that. Gradually, we will also enable those teachers who want to, to retire with respectable conditions.

I'd like to see teachers opposing their own plans - that's hardly likely. If the minister acts in this manner, she would be freed of the Dovrat fetters, and would quickly see that the long way is the short way: reform would begin within a month.