Ultra-Orthodox Educators Reject Plan to Raise Education Bar for Principals

Education Ministry attempting to institute regulations that will require school principals to hold master's degrees.


Ultra Orthodox men walking at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Leading figures in the state religious-education system are undermining the Education Ministry's attempts to institute regulations that will require school principals to hold master's degrees.

Ministry officials said opposition to the directive is part of a broader trend whereby the religious-education system is moving further into the camp of the national religious ultra-Orthodox (a community often referred to by its Hebrew acronym Hardal ).

Current government policy requires school principals to have completed a principals' training course (taught at various colleges and universities around the country ) or to hold a master's degree in education administration.

As part of their efforts to improve the quality of school administrations, ministry officials first proposed several months ago that a master's degree be obligatory for all principals. Officials in the religious-education system, however, have firmly opposed the measure, effectively bringing the issue to a standstill.

Principal training programs have transformed over the past two years, with more emphasis placed on practical instruction. "For the changes to be complete rather than merely patchwork," one official said, "the right thing to do is strengthen the academic background of prospective principals and require that they have master's degrees. It's a fundamental requirement."

Candidates seeking to be principals of post-secondary schools are required to hold advanced degrees, but officials said the requirement is not always enforced. Elementary school principals are only required to have bachelor's degrees.

Prominent rabbis in the national religious camp (and by extension, the national religious ultra-Orthodox ) have voiced opposition to the new measure, officials said, attributing their stance to a general aversion to higher academic studies.

Most teachers hailing from the national-religious camp do not have master's degrees, and their professional advancement could consequently be undercut by the new requirement.

"The top Education Ministry officials must now decide whether to show resolve by not giving up on the master's degree requirement for all prospective principals, or to exempt the religious public from it. If they exempt the religious, it's possible that Arab candidates will demand similar terms," one official said.

As reported in Haaretz last month, leading figures in the Religious Education Administration recently effected changes that lend their school system a decidedly more ultra-Orthodox feel.

Secular books have been removed from nursery libraries, Torah study often takes the place of core subjects and boys and girls are separated from first grade on, including on school buses.

The Education Ministry released the following response: "The issue is being studied. The ministry will respond to the matter at the end of these assessments."

The head of the Religious Education Administration, Avraham Lipschitz, declined to comment.