(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In a recent study, Israel’s National Bureau of Statistics found the average score of teachers on the psychometric exam to be below the national average (545). Although this exam is not the only predictor of success – certainly dedication, creativity, a love of students and passion for one’s subject matter are all valuable – we still cannot ignore the fact that higher test scores typically indicate higher-level abilities across all professionals and areas of study.
There is no debate that the quality of teachers is the most important factor in the success of the educational system, and it is therefore crucial that we lead a change that will attract the best to the field of education.
To improve the quality of teachers, we must take several steps:
1. Compensate quality teachers – allow for growth and promotion among top-level teachers, not based simply on seniority and professional development, but also on principal evaluations to be approved by supervisors.
2. Recognize previous professional seniority for those who switched professions, joining the field of education – in order to recruit those idealistic individuals who worked in other areas and would like to contribute to the world of education, but often are prevented from doing so because entrance level salaries are low and are disproportionate to what they were previously earning.
3. Change the mode of professional development, providing teachers with more flexibility and opportunity for growth; for example, an excellent teacher mentoring new teachers.
4. Increase teacher autonomy – in content and learning modalities, in utilizing the many additional hours that the “Oz L’Tmurah” and “Ofek Chadash” reforms added. Provide new modes of teaching, for example co-teaching, developing joint R&D groups, etc.
Above all, in order to attract strong teachers, it is crucial that we open the market and provide principals the freedom to find the very best out there and to compensate them appropriately through personal contracts, a concept that is not at all accepted in the current framework.
The compensation arrangements for teachers today do not always sit well with young teachers, and tenure, which allows any teacher to stay in the system regardless of their effectiveness, often harms the strong teachers who need to put in double work to reach the educational quality they bring with them.
National Bureau of Statistics findings show that in Israel, the compensation difference between educators at the later end of their career (age 54 to 65) and those first starting out (age 25 to 34) can reach 109% (in high schools). The meaning of this finding is twofold: first, a young teacher must be idealistic enough to accept a salary that is often 50% lower than that of someone who teachers alongside him, and second a teacher who is in the later stages of his career and is still not eligible for pension, who feels burnt out and like he is no longer contributing, needs to really be true to himself and his students in order to leave the field when his salary has finally peaked.
Therefore, it is imperative to open a track of personal contracts for excellent teachers, without regard to age, seniority and number of in-services, allowing principals to employ a given percentage of teachers with individual contracts and high salaries – without tenure and without set salary arrangements, just like the open market, while simultaneously working to improve the quality of the rest of the teachers by developing entrepreneurship and autonomy.
Practically, in order to avoid lengthy struggles and succeed in this process it must work alongside the current compensation structure, without harming existing agreements and arrangements.
The question of added budget still needs to be solved (a portion will come from the high salaries of teachers that will be saved when some of them leave the system once they feel that they have given all they can), but the beginning of this path could entail giving individual contracts to 10% of the educational staff in each school. This would foster conversations among teachers about excellence, and would help attract top educators and improve the quality of education in Israel.
The author is director general of the AMIT Network.