From your education correspondent in Tel Aviv

“I’m a blogger,” I told the young woman who asked for my name and ID at the press conference Sunday morning at the Likud Party Headquarters.
The woman smiled.(
I guess she knew that already. . .

There I was, with Rafi, Carl, RivkA and her husband Moshe. [Lurker must have been lurking too much; I didn’t see him.] Scouting the room for Hebrew bloggers I found Anat and Dalia, who cover education for the site Avodah Shechorah. “Avodah Shechorah” means black labor, or getting down to the nitty gritty. The site advocates for Israel to become a welfare state, which is not exactly in line with Bibi’s economic goals. But the topic today was education.

Bibi made a special point of greeting the bloggers. I had a better view than at NBN. About twenty journalists attended but more were clearly expected.

Bibi is running for prime minister as head of the Likud, and in honor of the new school year he presented the Likud party’s education plan.

His main points:

  • As prime minister he would make education a priority, equal in weight to security and the economy. He would head an “education cabinet” and give full authority to the education minister, just as Sharon gave Bibi as economic minister.
  • Only education can close the vast socio-economic gaps in Israel. Wealthy parents can hire tutors to overcome a weak system, while the poor are left behind. The number of years spent in school affect income and employment more than the parents’ education or socio-economic status.
  • The level of Israeli students has declined by all measures, despite additional sums invested in education. Israel spends an average amount of money per student, yet our international test scores scrape bottom.
  • He studied the successes and failures of other countries, claiming that this method worked when he [supposedly] brought the Israeli economy back from the verge of collapse in the early part of the decade.
  • His plan focuses on teacher quality, the most important factor in a child’s success.

How does Netanyahu plan attract good teachers to the educational system?

  1. Carefully screen candidates and raise the standards of acceptance. He pointed out that doctors and psychologists require years of training and are not well compensated (in Israel), yet because of prestige spots are still in demand.
  2. Invest in these high-quality teacher students by providing a high level of pedagogical and academic skills and knowledge.
  3. Continue to train new teachers on the job, pairing them with more experienced mentors. Build support for new teachers within the system.
  4. Raise salaries, but don’t count on that alone. France and Australia, respectively, doubled and tripled teacher salaries with no visible improvement in performance.

Teachers, what do you think? Is it possible, in theory and in practice, to raise the level of prestige and professional satisfaction within the teaching profession?

Netanyahu presented the five main points of his plan:

  1. Tovim lehoraah–the best students go to education (as outlined above). Increase salary and professional training.
  2. Give administrators independence and authority, train them in management, and make them accountable for the results.
  3. Intervene quickly to assist weak students, especially in the early years. Keep track of progress and address problems the day they are discovered; the next school year is probably too late.
  4. Return to core subjects. Israeli students spend 56% of their classtime, as opposed to 93% in OECD countries, on reading, writing, literature, math, science, foreign language, history and citizenship.
  5. Return values to education: Citizenship, democracy, respect for teachers and principals, zionism and moreshet yisrael (Jewish tradition), and discipline. He spoke about the danger of anti-Israel sentiments in our schools.

RivkA asked about cheating. [I was also wondering how Bibi planned to bring discipline back to informal Israeli “zeh lo fair” classrooms.] Bibi said that you need to develop a framework of personal responsibility and accountability. He didn’t specify how he would accomplish this.

A reporter asked about the charedim, who recently won the right for their schools to be exempt from core subjects. Bibi replied that we must work within the political reality, and added that even now more charedim and Arabs, including Arab women, are entering the workforce.

I asked about the wisdom of implementing new reforms so soon after the recent Dovrat reforms (now known as Ofek), which aroused strong objections from teachers. He replied that the teachers’ union asked him the same question. He plans to uphold with the positive elements of those reforms, and not make change for its own sake. I was hoping he would be more specific, but he only mentioned the renewed emphasis on Zionist education as lacking in Ofek.

Carl and Rafi have included more detail in their posts. RifkA has so far posted only about the logistics of her morning.

AddeRabbi posted his take on the plan, pointing out that Bibi did not bring up the issue of private schools. This concerns me too and I wish I had asked about it. I have read some of AddeRabbi’s posts on the private school system in Israel. As I understand it, he believes that parents choose private schools because of supposedly higher educational standards. But Israeli parents, at least in the religious sector, will choose exclusivity over education every time. This holds true from the most modern Orthodox to the most haredi. (According to my husband, parents see schools as a club for parents.)

Bibi mentioned drawing good teachers to development towns and other poorer areas, but if he said how he plans to do this, I missed it. Funneling more educational resources to the lower socioeconomic sectors is a good idea. Because from where I sit, “protekzia” and exclusivity are the name of the educational game.


  1. MII you said on Adderabbi’s blog:
    the experience of France and Australia shows that increasing salaries alone does not improve results.
    I must have missed something because in 22 years of teaching in France I have seen very little increase – at least decided by the gvt. What increase I have had was thanks to my head and inspector.
    Interesting post yet. Thanks for writing it.

  2. Jerusalem Joe says

    As a former student of education and teacher of teachers I can attest to the fact that the level of training of the teachers is simply abonimable.
    There is a complete disconnection between
    well-known research findings in various fields – psychology, sociology, group dynamics, organizational theory and more, and between what is being taught in the teacher’s seminars.
    Basically students are being taught to fit into the present education system – which means the system that has been in place for a hundred years…
    for example, how to deal with a problem child:
    1 – scold him
    2 – kick him out of class and send him to the principal
    3 – call his parents to school for special meeting
    4 – transfer to s.e./convince parents to give their child reatalin or similar tranquilizer.
    OK, the last one is new but really – this what they teach! Of course whoever does it differently is punished by peers who do not want to look bad. This is a terrible situation.
    The lack of good training also causes 50% dropout of new teachers within their first few years – they just do not have the tools to deal with classes, which is a seriously ridiculous situation.
    In short, teaching is still not being taught as a profession – it’s just a “haltura” (what’s the translation for that?? maybe “oddjob”) and everybody implicitly acknowledges that.
    Until the general public expects and demands more I don’t see how it will change.
    So that is the problem – how to transfer the responsibility to the parents and give them effective ways to implement their will and affect the teachers and schools. The voucher system in the States seems like that kind of system.
    Anyway – end of rant…

  3. Sounds like a lot of platitudes and not a lot of substance. About what I’d expect from a politician on the campaign trail.

  4. mother in israel says

    I-D: I was quoting Bibi. Sorry you weren’t affected by this!! Maybe it was local?

  5. My neighbor graduated from Israeli high school in the 1980s. She’s now a physics prof at an Ivy, so she knows what a good education is. She said her education was excellent. So what were they doing right back then that it’s fallen so? Did the teachers of old retire, and younger people don’t go into education? It’s not like there was a lot of money in Israel in the 1980s to pay teachers.

  6. What really drives me crazy about Ofek/Dovrat are the new ads on the radio and tv going on about how the teachers have more time to have one on one meetings with kids once a week and how now kids love school because of them. One on one meetings? How about just teaching for a full day. When I see kids getting out of school at 12:30 on a Wednesday, it just blows my mind. That’s why we’re so behind- kids just aren’t in school for enough hours to keep up.
    If teachers just worked a full day like everyone else in the country, they’d probably get more respect and more money, which is what they want. (I speak as someone with an education degree and I also taught in the states a full day- 8 to 4.)
    Even with the extra day a week, it still doesn’t add up.

  7. I agree with Robin- his ideas sound wonderful, but unless there is a very specific and realistic plan for implementing them, they amount to nothing more than campaign promises.
    The last one in particular raises a lot of red flags: “Return values to education”. Well, there’s a minefield. Which values? Whose values? Israel’s population is so diverse that I wonder if there is still any consensus on which core values should be taught in school. I can just envision the various political parties fighting that one out.

  8. mother in israel says

    I’m reading all comments. Raizy, check Rafi and Carl for more about that. I just gave a summary of the main points.

  9. MIL: Nothing is local in France! It is a very centralized country and everyone at the same level is paid the same. It only changes once you move up a bit but still then it is very controlled and with limited personal increase.

  10. Good point about parents in Israel choosing schools becuase of exclusivity.
    Couple of things to think about:
    a. Every (private) school must strike a balance between being big enough and being too big, i.e., between inclusivity and exclusivity. The market dictates what it must do to strike that balance. If parents don’t want [insert class of undesirables here] in their kids’ school, then, under a fair system in which the school won’t get its funding regardless of enrollment, either tuition will go up (or fundraising efforts will be increased), the ethnic/ religious barriers will go down, or the school will close.
    b. Perhaps, if schools are encouraged (by privatization) to carve out niches, there will be enough competition that the issue of exclusivity gives way to one of actual education, sort of like in “The Star Bellied Sneetches” (one of the greatest mussar seforim of all time). Wishful thinking?

  11. Wow. Good post. I, like Jlm Joe, have a lot to say on the matter. I’m glad Bibi knows his stats. The ed level has definately declined. I forgot which test it was but the results of one nationwide test were so low that they refused to publish them!
    Before I comment on what Bibi said, I just want to say that there is a major teacher shortage in this country. I’m going on maternity leave soon and haven’t found anyone to replace me. I’ve heard that there are 200 English teachers lacking in Israel. Why? Well like Joe said, most people who are trained leave within or just after their first year. So how can we retain them? In school one of the articles we read was about how the most important thing in a teacher’s first year of teaching is a support system. If a teacher has support from his/her coworkers or a mentor then he/she will be less likely to drop out after that first year. Believe me! This is sooooo true. I speak from personal experience. The first year is always the hardest and with help eveyone can get through it.
    I think the careful screening can only be done once we have a large bank of teachers. Right now we don’t have enough so I don’t see how we can screen some out. We’re desperate to have a body in the classroom. I read an article recently on how because of the shortage of teachers, there will be three week training courses in some colleges around the country to train teachers so they can start teaching ASAP. Three week training courses?!!!! That’s nuts. To be a good teacher you need a little more than that. Okay, I’m leaving out the other details like how they will have guidance throughout their teaching in that first year or maybe even more but still. I can’t say that I would have been ready to teach after three weeks of courses. In fact even after one and a half years of courses plus four years of studying for my B.A. (not in that order) I still didn’t feel 100% comfortable going into a classroom. I would have liked more training and more courses.
    I agree that we need to have higher levels of training so that we can invest in our teachers. I definately think we need to raise salaries. I’m not talking about the Ofek Chadash way. I’m talking about really and truly giving teachers lots more per hour and not just demanding more work of them. So many of my friends from my course dropped out because they could make more money doing….(almost anything else). Seriously, they made more money teaching English to adults on the phone or telemarketing. For this they needed to be trained? The courtry invested in us by training us and then didn’t pay us enough for us to stick around. Out of twenty teachers who finished the course maybe 5 are actually teaching in an Israeli classroom. These are the basic stats from these types of courses. So yea, definately paying us more would make a difference.
    I’m not in favor of giving administrators the authority. Not cool. That’s also part of

  12. As I was saying, that’s also part of Ofek Chadash. If principals have the power to hire and fire then they’ll just hire their friends and the whole school will be friends with the principal. That’s not what we want.
    It’s very important that Bibi not do what Dovrat and Ofek ended up doing. They both proposed paying teachers more but when push came to shove teachers are being paid less per hour and being forced to work more hours. If he make a plan the good part of the plan needs to be implemented and that’s the salary increase. Maybe even less hours for more pay. I must be dreaming.
    The way to draw good teachers to development towns is to pay them more. It used to be that teachers would be paid more if they lived and worked in development towns but they’ve cut that. Anything that costs the gov’t too much money is automatically cut.
    We need to invest time and money in our teachers in order to raise the level of education in this country. Believe me, I know lots of very idealistic English teacher who are not in this profession for the money but I’m sure that more money wouldn’t hurt anyone.
    It’s important that we all understand that the meitzav and bagrut system is also destroying our educational system. By having these two state wide tests, we are forcing teachers to teach to the test. Kids and learn anything just for the sake of learning. Students aren’t enjoying the learning as much as a result. This is really very detrimental.
    Anyway, I’ll stop here. Much more can be said but I’ll let others say it. I’d love to hear what Batya has to say about all this. MiI, would it be possible to tag her?

  13. bb, i’m one of the “education dropouts”. I got my ma in Jewish education, i’ve taught in schools both in the us and here. I left to work at home editing web content because I couldn’t afford childcare in order to teach.
    I’m not sure why you think it’s a disaster to have administrators be in charge of hiring and firing. That’s the way it’s done in the US and though there might be some nepotism, how many of the principal’s friends really want to be teachers? I doubt enough to fill an entire school. And why do you assume all principals are just cynical politicians who want to help their friends? I’m sure there must be at least a few altruistic ones who actually want to run a successful school and educate their students.
    and as for making more money: as I said above, working a full day would go a long way to making a decent salary. In the us, I taught from 8 to 4 with no “planning hours”. I did all my planning at home. Yes, it’s very difficult. But almost every other profession involves afterhours planning and paper work.
    But teachers do need to be paid a decent global salary commensurate with this work (at least a living wage! When i lived in NY, i was paid a wage that allowed me to live in NY;otherwise i couldn’t have taught there. Teachers are not cleaners or plumbers- i don’t understand why they are still paid hourly and not globally).

  14. The reason I didn’t think that giving principals too much power was a good idea is because right now my school in the middle of a strike. The parents are striking against the pricipal whom they think has too much power but doesn’t use it correctly. I guess I’m just speaking from my experience. I’m also living in the suburbs where teachers can hire their own kind. I see from my current pricipal that they do hire their own friends. Maybe the whole school isn’t filled with their friends but it’s enough to make getting the job done very difficult.

  15. BB – good point. If you’re going to give the local principal a lot of power, you need to give the local school board power, too. Checks and balances.

  16. Finally posted about Netanyahu’s Eductation Initiative.
    Interested in your opinion.