Israeli teachers earn more comparatively than others in the OECD - report

As teachers threaten to strike, the Shoresh institution questions if teachers' wages are the main issue in the education system.

 Children wearing face masks attend a class as students return to school after the summer break, less than a month into a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine booster drive, at Arazim Elementary School in Tel Aviv, Israel September 1, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Children wearing face masks attend a class as students return to school after the summer break, less than a month into a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine booster drive, at Arazim Elementary School in Tel Aviv, Israel September 1, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

An independent policy research center focused on socioeconomic issues has claimed that Israeli teachers earn up to 23% more than their counterparts in OECD countries when adjusted for teaching hours and national living standards.

The report from the Shoresh Institute comes as teachers in Israel threaten to strike, delaying the start of the school year, unless the government agrees to provide better salaries and working conditions for educators.

Despite teachers’ complaints about low wages, the Shoresh report suggests that the situation is not as black and white as it may seem.

Teachers’ wages in Israel are, in fact, lower than the average for teachers in the OECD, with wages 5.1% below the OECD average in primary schools, 4% lower in lower secondary schools and 4.5% lower in upper secondary schools.

“While the public discourse in Israel commonly emphasizes such comparisons in monthly or annual terms, these tend to be misleading because of their focus on only one side of the equation – what the teachers receive – while ignoring the other side, what teachers provide in return,” the report states. It also points to what it calls the very low knowledge level of Israeli students and teachers compared with those in other developed countries.

 TEACHERS DEMONSTRATE outside the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, last week. Their signs say that they’re fighting for their rights and that poor working conditions have resulted in fewer teachers. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90) TEACHERS DEMONSTRATE outside the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, last week. Their signs say that they’re fighting for their rights and that poor working conditions have resulted in fewer teachers. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Shoresh pointed out that it is more descriptive to compare Israeli teachers’ wages to teachers’ wages in other countries by taking into account teaching hours and national living standards.

“These adjustments – correcting for (a) the amount of work provided by teachers and (b) national hourly wages – completely overturn the public perception in Israel that the country’s teachers are underpaid in comparison with their contemporaries abroad,” said the report.

According to the adjusted comparison, primary school teachers in Israel actually earn 3% more than their counterparts in OECD countries, while lower secondary school teachers earn 16% more and upper secondary school teachers receive 23% more.

Israeli classrooms congested, despite low teacher-student ratios

Another complaint in Israel is a purportedly high wage gap between teachers with seniority and entry-level teachers, as primary school teachers with 15 years of experience earn 45% more than starting teachers.

While this may seem like a large gap, it’s about average for OECD countries, according to Shoresh.

In lower secondary schools, the wage gap rises to 60%, bringing Israel above about two-thirds of OECD countries. In upper secondary schools, however, the gap is only 29% which is lower than most OECD countries.

“Thus, public claims of extraordinary Israeli gaps between more experienced and less experienced teachers are not borne out in the international comparisons,” according to the report.

How big is the wage gap between teachers?

Another complaint raised in the discourse in Israel is a purportedly high wage gap between teachers with seniority and entry-level teachers, as primary school teachers with 15 years of experience earn 45% more than starting teachers.

While this may seem like a large gap, it's about average for OECD countries.

In lower secondary schools, the wage gap rises to 60%, bringing Israel above about two-thirds of OECD countries, but in upper secondary schools, the gap is only 29% which is lower than most OECD countries.

"Thus, public claims of extraordinary Israeli gaps between more experienced and less experienced teachers are not borne out in the international comparisons," according to the report.

Too many teachers are only working part-time

The difference between full-time and part-time wages is significant, with full-time first-year teachers receiving an average monthly salary of NIS 8,538, while the average part-time salary is only NIS 3,763.

Full-time teachers’ salaries rise steadily with seniority, averaging NIS 18,506 per month after 30 years, but part-time teachers with the same amount of experience earn less than half that amount at NIS 9,135.

“It is not clear why so many of Israel’s teachers work part-time. Is it their choosing, or does the education system not enable more full-time hires? Whatever the underlying reason for such a high share of part-time teachers, this is a major issue that needs to be addressed directly and not swept under the rug while interested parties continue to complain about low monthly salaries in their demands for higher pay,” said the report.

"It is vital to take a step back and look at the big picture – before spending even larger amounts of taxpayer money on what appears to be a very dysfunctional system."

Shoresh institution

What solution does it suggest?

“With Israel’s education expenditures eclipsing its very large defense expenditures to become the country’s biggest budgetary outlay in recent years, it is vital to take a step back and look at the big picture – before spending even larger amounts of taxpayer money on what appears to be a very dysfunctional system,” concluded the Shoresh report. It called for a “complete overhaul” of the education system, including a series of issues such as improving the core curriculum, overhauling the expensive Education Ministry and providing principals with more authority.

The institution also called for the bar of acceptance to academic teaching and education programs to be raised, with persons interested in teaching math, physics, English and other subjects required to receive academic degrees in their desired discipline first and then train for a teaching certificate.

Shoresh added that this would give teachers a much better understanding of their field and require Israel to pay them competitive wages in order to get them to teach.

The institute pointed out that teachers should also be required to work hours and days similar to their counterparts in OECD countries as this would allow the country to hire fewer teachers at higher salaries.