Regular readers know that I’m spending the academic year in Israel because of my husband’s studies. While I’ve spent most of time here on GothamSchools business, I’ve also been reporting about Israeli schools — and the picture I’ve been painted over and over isn’t pretty.
In the New Republic this week, I look at the state of Israeli school reform in the year since former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein visited Jerusalem. I write:
Boasting a disproportionate number of Nobel laureates, patents, and high-tech start-ups, Israel is famous for its professional achievements in science, math, and engineering. Yet its students sit stubbornly near the bottom of developed nations on international exams. Hidden behind the national scores are wide achievement gaps—between Arab and Jewish students, between immigrants and those native-born, and between students in the cosmopolitan cities and those in developing regions of the country. What’s more, Israel’s robust early childhood enrollment—85 percent of children attend preschool—and low high-school dropout rate don’t appear to be correlated to academic gains. Class sizes are large, teachers are poorly educated and paid little, and discipline is considered a major problem. “Every time I see on the news the low scores [on international exams], I feel shame,” said Eti Yedidya, principal of Jerusalem’s well-regarded Geulim School. “It’s frustrating to know that you are doing everything you can do and it’s not enough.”
In a country known for innovation, why has desperately needed educational change moved so slowly? And why haven’t reformers coalesced around an agenda to improve schools in the way they have in the United States?
My reporting pointed to a few answers to this question, including political instability and pressures, a lack of school data, and unresolved cultural ideas about the purpose of education. Read my full report.