Once again we have received a painful reminder of the dire need for educational
reform in our primary and secondary schools.
On Monday the Education
Ministry released the results for the 2012 school year’s “Meitzav,” a Hebrew
acronym for School Efficiency and Growth Index. Like the Program for
International Student Assessment and other scholastic evaluation indices, the
Meitzav –administered to fifth and eighth graders in April and May – measures
our students’ skills in their mother language (Hebrew or Arabic), mathematics,
science and English.
The drop in eighth-graders’ math scores was the most
dramatic. The average math score in 2012 was 501, down from 522 in 2011. (A
perfect score is 800.) Though both Jewish and Arab eighth-graders scored lower,
the drop in the Arab students’ scores was sharper. Scores in other subjects were
also lower. And there continue to be significant gaps between rich and poor
Israel’s capacity to compete in a global economy that is
driven increasingly by specialized knowledge and analytic skills depends on our
school system’s ability to produce highly educated men and women.
do we improve our education system? A widespread myth is that increased spending
on education and smaller classrooms translates into higher scholastic
Singapore consistently scores very high in PISA and TIMSS
exams, though the country spends less on each student in primary education than
almost any other developed country in the world and has a high teacher to
student ratio. In Finland, students do not even start school until they are
seven years old, and they attend classes for only four or five hours each day
during their first two years of schooling. Yet by age 15, they lead the world in
math, science, reading and problem-solving exams.
Rather, there are a few
common denominators shared by all countries in which primary and secondary
school students excel in international exams or are in the process of rapidly
improving students’ exam results: First and foremost, all the very best school
systems in the world strive to get the right people to become teachers. Only the
very finest undergraduate students – the top 5 percent of the class in South
Korea (for primary school teachers), the top 10% in Finland, the top 30% in
Singapore and Hong Kong – are accepted into teachers’ training programs. And
because they are so selective, all graduates can be guaranteed a job. Entry
level salaries are good – though not exceedingly high. As a result, teachers are
respected and discipline is easier to maintain. Also, those few good men and
women who are selected to become teachers receive the very best training. No
long-term contracts are signed with teachers in their first years at work so
that those who are found to be ineffective in the classroom can be
Finally, all the best school systems make sure every child –
whether a weak or a strong student – benefits from the excellent instruction
provided by these outstanding teachers.
These were the uncontested
findings of a study titled “How the world’s best-performing school systems come
out on top” carried out by McKinsey & Company, the international consulting
firm, between May 2006 and March 2007.
And the findings, which state the
obvious – one cannot give what one does not have – remain true to this
The question is how do we attract outstanding men and women to a
profession that has suffered for so long from a justly deserved bad reputation?
The first modest step should be to create programs patterned after initiatives
such as the Boston Teacher Residency, the New York Teaching Fellows and the
Chicago Teaching Fellows, which choose the very finest young men and women to
become teachers and integrate them into schools while “branding” them in the
eyes of students as special.
Implementing more far-reaching reforms will
inevitably clash with the interests of our nation’s strong teachers’ union and
the myriad teachers’ training programs that produce thousands of tuition-paying
graduates every year who often make mediocre educators, if they manage to find a
But with election season upon us, voters should take advantage of
the opportunity to demand of politicians clear programs for action aimed at
improving our education system.
The future of the Jewish state depends on
producing the next generation of men and women capable of competing in a global
economy that has become increasingly more demanding.