Education Ministry spending billions, but not implementing reforms properly

State Comptroller report shows need for more staff in kindergartens, more oversight over high school reforms.

School children in class (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
School children in class
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Large parts of the New Horizons educational reform, which aims to ensure a high standard of education and regulation in the kindergarten system, have not been implemented, according to the report that State Comptroller Joseph Shapira presented to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Tuesday.
One of the many problems the report raised was the staff-to-student ratio in kindergartens for children ages three and four. The country’s current ratio is 35 children to two staff members – one kindergarten teacher and one assistant. This ratio is much higher than most developed countries and makes it difficult for the staff to properly attend to the children and their needs, the report said.
The expansion of the compulsory education law to include children as young as three has introduced new difficulties into the classroom setting that a staff of two cannot sufficiently address, Shapiro continued. Many of the children start the year not fully toilet trained – or not toilet trained at all – and many of the children have never been in an educational setting outside the home before, which leads to a longer adjustment period at the beginning of the year.
Even without these difficulties, three-year-olds are at a developmentally challenging stage that requires a great deal of individual attention, the report noted.
The report also discussed inequalities between Jewish kindergartens and kindergartens for minorities. One glaring example was that Jewish kindergartens operate six days a week, while kindergartens for minorities operate on five, with no compensation in the form of educational programming or funding.
Additionally, the report said, the educational program has not been adapted for Arabic culture, and parts of it have not been translated into Arabic.
The comptroller’s underlying message was that the New Horizons reform – which costs the government NIS 960 million a year – and both the Dovrat and Trachtenberg Committee reports, despite receiving government acceptance, have not been fully implemented, and this lack of implementation is hurting the children the Education Ministry is meant to serve.
The report also addressed the Oz Letmura (Courage to Change) reform in the high school system. The reform changed the structure of the teachers’ workweek, raised salaries, and afforded time in their schedule for individual lessons and instructional support hours.
One of the problems with the reform is the lack of schools joining the program, the report said. Only 231 schools have fully implemented the program – well below the 450-school goal that the Education Ministry set for the 2013- 2014 school year. Moreover, the report continued, approximately 36 percent of the teachers working at those 231 schools did not join the program.
The report also pointed to a lack of evaluation regarding teachers’ use of the individual- lesson time, leading to misuse of that time according to the reform guidelines.
The Education Ministry allocated funding to 727 schools to build work corners to accommodate the individual-lesson time and instructional-support hours. However, the report said, a quarter of the schools that received that funding still have not finished building the work areas, and that has harmed the teachers’ abilities to utilize their hours properly.
In approximately a third of the schools that have finished building the work areas, the report found discrepancies between the number of such areas for which the ministry had allocated funding, and the number the schools actually built. Additionally, the report said, in many cases, the areas were built in inappropriate places, such as hallways, basements, storage areas, electrical rooms, school smoking corners, and even outdoors. All this means that many teachers lack the appropriate physical conditions to fulfill their obligations.
The report also argued that the ministry was not utilizing the reports it received – those from both internal reviews and the monitoring companies it employed – to learn from mistakes and improve the process of implementing the reform properly.
Quoting the 2005 Dovrat Report, Shapira wrote that “what we can prevent at the outset, or fix relatively easily at a young age, turns into an impossible task later on,” stressing the importance of good education for the state’s youngest citizens.
In response to the report, the Education Ministry stated, among other things, that over 1,000 national-service positions had been created to allow for extra staff in kindergartens with over 20 students starting at age three, and educational programs for Arab-sector kindergartens were being developed.