Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Adar 5764 - March 11, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Secular Israeli Schools Fail the Test
by S. Fried

When the electronic media recently reported the results of the MITZAV (School Efficacy and Growth Assessment) tests conducted in 5763, the disclosure forced the Education Ministry to release the results in full and to raise the issue on the public agenda. Not only did the education system have to face an unsympathetic critique, but parents and students were also censured.

MITZAV testing is a fairly new invention and replaces the Mashov tests conducted in past years. First conducted in 5762 they were slated to be held annually, near the beginning of the school year. Each time the tests are administered to 50 percent of 5th and 8th grade classes in the country, in government, government-religious and non-Jewish schools.

Less than one year ago the results of the international PISA tests drew a flurried reaction when Israel ranked far behind most of the countries where the tests were conducted. Are Israeli students being barraged with comparative assessment tests?

Dr. B. Kramersky, head of the department of teacher training at Bar-Ilan University and one of the administrators of the PISA tests, sets the record straight. The MITZAV test, she explains, is built on the same principle as the PISA test, which is an international exam held once every three years under UNESCO sanction. Like the MITZAV test the PISA test evaluates both scholastic achievement and teacher-student- parent relations in order to understand the ties between achievement and learning conditions.

Last year's PISA results were disastrous for Israel. For example, in the tests held in 1999 only 5 percent of Israeli students reached a level of excellence, compared to 46 percent of students from Singapore. The average score in math for 8th grade students was 57, and 70 for 4th grade students. The average score in algebra for 8th grade students was a mere 40. In general, Israel ranked 28th out of 38 countries tested, after ranking 6th in 1984 and first in arithmetic in 1964. Apparently Israeli education has been regressing for decades and is rapidly heading toward Third World levels.

The Knesset Education Committee held a series of meetings following the PISA results. During the meetings Professor Z. Mevarech, head of the PISA project in Israel, and Dr. Kramersky, her research partner, presented the findings of the international study, findings that offered the committee little encouragement.

In the last of the meetings the two researchers presented the report's findings on student attitudes. They found that the older the student the lower his attendance rate drops. Some students do not come at all, come late or come on time but do not participate in class. In Israel, pressure to achieve is below the international average. Principals and students report discipline is inadequate in schools. Teacher morale is tied to student achievement.

Yet surprisingly the exams showed teacher-student relations are better than the international average. Apparently Israeli students simply feel good because they do not relate to their teachers with respect and do not feel pressure to achieve or compete. Israel is near the bottom of the ranking in terms of pressure to succeed. Meanwhile the teachers don't feel as comfortable with their students and report increasing violence and a fear of having eggs thrown at them--or worse-- were they to try to impose discipline. For this reason Israel is in first place in the world in terms of feelings of belonging to the school. How is this? Simple. School is the most readily available place to meet with friends.

In the MITZAV tests 20 percent of Israeli students admit they are afraid to come to school due to fears of violence.


The Education Ministry saw it was headed for trouble and decided to conduct a similar test in a made-in-Israel version. The task of writing the test was given to an extra- ministerial team and the test was accompanied by a questionnaire about the atmosphere at the school, the competence of the teaching staff, the relations between teachers and administrators, etc.

When the results came in the researchers, educators and public figures did not where to start. The poor scholastic achievement? The conspicuous class gaps? The growing violence and the scornful attitude toward the school? The need for a major change in the prevailing worldview that fosters greater respect for the student than for the teacher?

"It's not clear which is the chicken and which is the egg," said Dr. Kramersky. What is clear, however, is that there is plenty to fix.

"The low score in reading comprehension," adds Dr. Kramersky, "indicates a significant problem created long before the test. The problem is that students do not read in depth. They simply do not understand the text. Or maybe the teachers are not teaching right. There is no teaching strategy. Students are not being taught how to learn. Teachers place great emphasis on review and not on understanding. Although quantitative demands are made, this does not have to be at the expense of comprehension. And this does not apply only to understanding a literary excerpt. To know math, as well, one must understand how to read the problem correctly.

"In general," continues Dr. Kramersky, "we must learn not to deceive ourselves. Not to read vaguely, to understand vaguely. We do everything approximately and not precisely. Not from start to finish."

How can the tests change the situation? "If we analyze and search for the source for the students' errors and do not satisfy ourselves with excuses that the student does not listen, thinking can be changed. In theory the principals are supposed to receive the results of the tests conducted in their schools and they may also receive the students' workbooks. They are supposed to scrutinize the tests and take stock of the problems. Sometimes students develop an incorrect model of understanding and they follow it for years. Proper follow-up will get to the root of the mistakes."

Dr. Kramersky stresses the importance of advanced teaching courses, saying perhaps public pressure, particularly from parents, will compel teachers to brush up on their pedagogical training. She makes positive note of the chareidi education system for encouraging advanced training as well as chareidi teachers' feelings of mission. According to the findings of the PISA test, she says, chareidi teachers were happier with their work and had a greater desire to continue to learn. They are absent for less than their counterparts in the government education system and take their jobs more seriously. And there's no comparing discipline at chareidi schools to discipline at government schools.

"Once I suggested requiring students to stand up when the teacher steps in the classroom," recalls Dr. Kramersky. "This is not just a measure of respect for the teacher, but a means of focus. In secular classrooms 20 minutes of every class session are wasted until the students begin to listen and the teacher can start to teach. Class time is not used properly. There is no discipline and students are given too much freedom, a result of an incorrect viewpoint--like a golem who rises up against his creator."

And if there is no discipline, would the students really stand up when the teacher stepped into the classroom? Obviously such a thing cannot be established without it being a system-wide decision with appropriate backing. But for now that backing does not exist and a way of maintaining discipline in schools to improve the level of learning has not yet been found.

"The chareidi education system has nothing to be ashamed of in terms of its scholastic achievements as well," adds Dr. Kramersky, who was in charge of the Pisa exams and summarized the conclusions.


"The figures reflect Israeli society, which is without direction and without ideology and with violence," said Yuli Tamir at the Education Committee meeting. Professor Yaakov Katz, chairman of the Education Ministry's pedagogical secretariat and one of the central decision-makers, said, "Today there is no balance between the rights of the talmid and the teacher's ability to impose discipline. We have lost the teacher's ability to deter and he is afraid to take action and report. There are directives, but there is a reluctance to implement them."

In response, Mr. Ilan Bahiri and Mr. Dorot, representing teachers on the committee, blamed the Education Ministry. "Teachers lack authority," they said, "because there is no Education Ministry backing. A law defining the teacher's authority should be initiated as a counterbalance to the student's rights law."

The situation must be very severe if outspoken secular figures such as MKs and education figures are no longer burying their heads in the sand and blaming the lazy or disruptive student for the education system's ills. The scientific results, expressed statistically, compelled even those who wanted to sweep the problems under the carpet and begin to confront the reality.

That the police have become regular guests at schools is nothing new. What is new is that even people whose way of thinking is entirely secular and who felt government education represented their worldview are also beginning to ask, "Where did we go wrong?"

And they know the answer: the government education system has no values to teach.

"On the cultural level we live in a society that has greatly diminished reverence for education, culture and fairness," said Dr. Nimrod Aloni of the Kibbutz Seminary, considered one of the leading thinkers in the education world in Israel. "What is important here is success, potential and superficiality. The student absorbs this message from all of the most influential bodies, led by the political establishment and the Knesset."

Ignorance and superficiality are also manifested among MKs. Dr. Aloni recalls that when the issue of going up to the Temple Mount arose, two MKs supported it enthusiastically. When asked about their knowledge of the history of the Temple Mount and who built Beis Hamikdosh, one of them said Moshe's brother Aharon built it while they other said he didn't know.

Dr. Aloni further claims that the "ratings culture"--or perhaps "the lack of culture" is more apt--has led to weak thinking. "The ratings culture chews up the message well before it asks you to consume it. It does not demand that you exert yourself or think. Furthermore, life has been commercialized. The culture of material consumption replaces higher and more profound culture."


Dr. Aloni also speaks about the class gap in the field of education. Students from the lower socioeconomic rungs and out-of-the-way towns must make do with what they get at school, whereas students from well-off families, at prestigious schools and in upper-tenth neighborhoods use the school as a springboard for enrichment programs, private tutors and even private institutes. The results are visible.

The MITZAV tests do not overlook this variance either, with references to the "cultivated tenth." The charts demonstrate that in every subject the scores of the well-off are higher than the scores of the underprivileged. The disparity is particularly evident in the area of language skills. According to researchers, students from well-to-do homes are in a proper linguistic environment. Parents use correct or high language and their children read well-written books and are exposed to literary stimuli. Various materials are at their disposal and they develop their linguistic facilities naturally.

"The gaps among Israeli students are so immense," says Professor Mevarech, "that Israel is ranked in second place among 41 countries in inequality in the area of reading, and in first place in the areas of math and science."

"The traditional Jewish values were always education and social justice," concludes Dr. Aloni. "The Jews never controlled empires, but they always looked out for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow. Today we lag behind the world in these two areas. The state of Israel betrayed the fundamental values of Judaism."

How unfortunate it is that Dr. Aloni, along with the members of the Knesset Education Committee and the heads of the Education Ministry, particularly their respective heads, did not take another brave step forward by admitting that all of the ails of the education system stem from the betrayal of Judaism itself.


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