Commenting on a report released earlier this month, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira said, “Mathematics education in recent years is worrisome.” Worrisome is too costive a term describing a system undermining Israel’s national agenda and business growth. Economic and military sustainability depend on a workforce well educated in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and English.
The prestigious Economic Policy Institute 2013 study affirms: “Access to high-quality education will not only expand economic opportunity for residents, but also likely do more to strengthen the overall state economy than anything else a state government can do... Investing in education is a core contribution states can make to the well-being of their residents and the national economy overall.”
Flagging student achievement scores threaten the Start-up Nation’s future in biomed-tech, hi-tech, agritech, aerospace, security and international trade.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett repeatedly talk about these target areas for Israel’s economic and military survival. How incongruous. Professors fret for years about too few students applying for higher education especially in STEM degree programs and poorer showings in international high school academic Olympiad STEM competitions.
Their angst is exacerbated by gap differentials between rich and poor, majority and minority populations and the dearth of qualified teachers in all parts of the country. Schools compete with the private sector for the best and brightest on a not level playing field.
Since 2012 I have been writing articles about the deteriorating quality of STEM. Israel might soon find itself trapped in the same tenacious web as the US, which grants a special class of visas importing STEM specialists to fill shortages in the private sector.
Start with more money and commitment to quality. You get what you pay for, and teachers are paid far too little. Family breadwinners dedicated to teaching likely have second jobs. A barely livable wage crushes spirits, inhibiting innovation and enthusiasm.
A 2012 OECD report, “Education at a Glance,” ranked Israel near the bottom of 40 countries for its inadequate per-pupil spending on early childhood and secondary education. Israel ranks high on education spending as a percentage of its GDP, but only 25th of 38 countries in terms of ratio of students to teaching staff in secondary schools. In these grades, lower student- teacher ratios for STEM and language developments are most critical. Compounding the problem is the low number of hours of teaching time per year. High schools rank about 30th of 35 countries.
College-educated teachers with years of experience are paid half in Israel of what they earn in Europe and a third of what they earn in the US. Teachers in Chile and Mexico are paid more money. Salaries are on the rise, but regulations kick in to stymie progress. An English teacher with a BA from a top US university is good enough to teach in the same public school, with the same hours and under the same conditions, but only receives half the pay (about NIS 4,000 per month) if lacking pedagogical certification.
A Center for American Progress (CAP) report, “Teacher Pay Reforms,” said: “Research convincingly shows that teacher quality is the most important schooling factor influencing student achievement... Teacher quality swamps the impact of any other educational investment, such as reductions in class size.”
Businesses hire, promote and compensate based on education and quality of work. Money entices the best employees, spicing it up with recognition, professional development opportunities, benefits and perks, just what is not done in education. It is nonsense to expect to get the ablest teachers for less, but wail when children’s test scores plummet and malaise permeates. Much can be done to restructure the system, but restructuring without pay reform is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Bean-counting bulls cutting back education budgets epitomize the ephemeralization of classroom success; i.e., a policy of doing “more and more with less and less until eventually you can do everything with nothing.” Only my mother and Dr.
Seuss knew how to do more with less. Dr. Seuss used 50 words in the prize-winning book Green Eggs and Ham. He also warned, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
Dr. Harold Goldmeier is the managing partner of Goldmeier Investments LLC and an instructor of business and social policy at the American Jewish University, Aardvark Israel Gap Year Program, Tel Aviv.