Analyze this: How all sides fail to make the grade

Once again, reforms in Israel's education system put on hold.

It is customary at the resolution of major labor disputes like the secondary school teachers' strike, for the media to assess who emerged the winners - and who the losers - at the end of the day. This time around, as the sides appear to be drawing close to an agreement despite Tuesday night's breakdown in talks, we can expect to save ourselves the trouble - nobody will get a passing grade in this sad episode, the latest of many involving our educational system. Not the teachers, not the government, and certainly not - through no fault of their own - the students and their families. If we spare the key players in the strike the indignity of an "F," at best they deserve an "incomplete" - because rather than deciding on the major issues at stake in the dispute, both sides have decided to once again put on hold the major reforms needed to bring Israeli pedagoguery into the 21st century. At the end of the day, it was the threatened shameful spectacle of educators defying a back-to-work order issued by the National Labor Court, rather than common-sense compromise and concern for the greater good, that prompted a solid move toward resolving this labor action. Yes, in the agreement which is being formulated, the teachers may earn a small pay raise, and the government has pledged funds to reduce class sizes - although it remains to be seen to what degree this will be fulfilled (even some of the best-case scenarios would place the ceiling at 33 students per class, still a hefty number). However, resolution of the key areas of contention regarding education reform - how to extend the school day, empowering principals, setting fixed higher standards - are being put off for another day. It's almost as if the government and teachers are telling the public, after nearly two months of shuttered high schools, that the dog ate their homework. The teachers began the strike with considerable public sympathy - only to see much of it frittered away by their union leader, Secondary School Teachers Organization (SSTO) head Ron Erez. His inability to better articulate the teachers' concerns, his occasional crude language and his failure at the end of the day to sufficiently achieve his constituents' goals should encourage the SSTO membership to seek better leadership. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, despite his eleventh-hour intervention on Sunday night in inviting Erez to a Hanukka sit-down, will certainly get no extra credit from the public for his contribution here. Quite the opposite: After weeks of Olmert's asserting that he saw no appropriate direct role for himself in the dispute, exasperated parents will rightly wonder why he waited so long to finally meet the SSTO leadership. Certainly the excuse that the prime minister didn't want to undermine the positions of Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On - who is entirely in Olmert's pocket - or Education Minister Yuli Tamir, barely passes the laughter test. That's especially so as regards Tamir, the public figure who has undoubtedly been most damaged by the lengthy strike. The education minister did herself no favors in retreating earlier from some of the reforms recommended by the Dovrat report, and she failed the crucial test of making the public case for the comprehensive overhaul the education system desperately needed. Yet that's no excuse for the way her coalition colleagues, among them Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh, exploited the strike to repeatedly snipe at Tamir. But at least they belonged to a different faction than the Labor education minister; even worse was the indifferent treatment she received from her ostensible party leader, Ehud Barak, who didn't help his case for a return to the Prime Minister's Office with his lack of input on this crucial issue. If Barak was simply looking to get back at Tamir for her prior support of Amir Peretz, this wasn't the time for personal political vendettas. Alas, the biggest losers are, of course, the high school students and their parents. In order to make up the study hours lost during the strike, there is already talk of canceling much of the Pessah holiday or extending the school year deeper into the summer. Sometimes, as any student will tell you, school just isn't fair - and the same goes, in this case, for school strikes. If it were, rather than the students putting in the extra hours, it would be Erez, Olmert, Bar-On, Tamir, Barak, etc., who would be getting detention slips right now.