Corridors of Power: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

High-school teachers are opposing a decision to publish the results of an internal evaluation tool that measures staff performance.

Students 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
Students 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
Trees are meaningful in Jewish texts and traditions. They are symbols of wisdom, life and renewal. The first tree mentioned in the Bible is the Tree of Knowledge, which was described as “beautiful and tasty” but was forbidden to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
But times have changed, and since we are obviously not in the Garden of Eden anymore, some points of reference are different now. For example, at the Jerusalem Education Administration, the Tree of Knowledge has become Etz Hamadad (evaluation tree), a term the municipality uses for its internal system of evaluating the performance of the city’s high-school staff.
This “tree” provides the education administration with important indications regarding the level of achievements of various aspects of a high school. When the system was adopted two years ago, it raised much opposition among teachers and principals, who argued that making any of the results public would cause them serious damage in the public eye. Administration head Danny Bar-Giora responded that the results were never meant to be publicized and were designed to be used only as an additional tool to help the education system attain higher achievements.
The teachers and principals were mollified for a while – that is, until the results of one school were published last May. Granted, in that particular case the reason behind the decision to override the rule was a serious one. Bar-Giora wanted to get rid of principal Leah Klachko of the Sieff and Marks High School. However, Klachko refused to tender her resignation. Her school’s poor academic achievements were the only ones revealed to the public. At the municipality and in the education administration, no one could give a definitive answer as to who gave the order to release Sieff’s results to the press.
Almost a year has passed. Klachko has resigned, Etz Hamadad is still used by the education administration to gauge the local high schools’ achievements, and the incident was almost forgotten.
That was the situation until last week when, for reasons that still remain unclear, the education administration decided to release the results of all the schools. They have not yet been published, but a letter of protest has already reached Mayor Nir Barkat’s desk, signed by the representatives of Jerusalem’s high-school teachers, requesting that the decision be rescinded.
The results of Etz Hamadad focus on three main issues: the social values observed in a given school; the teaching and administrative achievements; and the academic achievements of the students. It is interesting to note that one of the parameters monitored in the social values category is the number of graduates who enroll in elite units in the IDF. In each category, the schools are marked with a different color. Red indicates the worst results, and green highlights the best achievements.
Eti Binyamin, the outgoing president of the Parents’ Association, says that the whole procedure is beyond her understanding. She says that if the tree is a tool for interior use, the results should certainly not be revealed at any time, and there is no logic behind the administration’s decision to publish the results now, almost two years after its introduction.
“But the most puzzling thing,” adds Binyamin, “is why it was published last year for Sieff only and not for the other schools. And what is the reason behind the decision to publish the results now, as they had already been available for almost two years? What happened now that didn’t happen last year?” Teachers and principals are particularly concerned that the publication of the results will give a distorted image that no one will know how to amend later.
“Suppose one school comes out with bad results now,” says a principal who does not want to be identified, “but the principal and the staff work hard to improve the situation – who will know about it then? Once you publish that such-andsuch a school has low results, nothing will change the image, and the damage is done.”
According to a municipal spokesman, the municipality is holding discussions with school principals to find a way to allow partial publication of the results, “to improve transparency and service to parents and pupils in the city.”