Has Israel’s education system deteriorated? Nachum Blass, Principal Researcher and Chair, Taub Center Education Policy Program, addressed this question by examining various aspects of the education system between 2010 and 2020. He found that, despite the popular belief that the education system is in a dire state, many changes have been made for the better: the budget increases annually, students’ academic achievements are improving (although they have not reached those of their OECD peers), the number of students per teacher has dropped, the number of teaching hours has increased, teachers’ education levels have risen, and there is a better match between the subjects the teachers teach and the subjects for which they trained. The study was based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), the Ministry of Education, and RAMA (the National Authority for Educational Measurement and Evaluation).
Narrowing the gaps? Despite the improved academic achievements by Arab students and the increase in the education budget allocated to this sector, their achievements still do not reach those in the other sectors
Examining changes in the Ministry of Education budget between 2012 and 2020, it is clear that the greatest budgetary increase was directed towards Arab and Bedouin education. The increases in budgets for the Hebrew and Druze sectors were more moderate.
“This phenomenon admittedly presents an optimistic picture but does not reflect the disturbing reality of inequality in budgeting for schools serving students from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, particularly in high school. There is a minor improvement in the size of per student expenditure and in reducing the disparity between Jewish students and Arab students, but we still cannot state that such disparities have been eliminated. We are still a long way from reaching that,” said researcher Nachum Blass.
In examining the Meitzav exam (school efficiency and growth indicators) scores for students in Grade 8, the overall grade among Hebrew speakers showed the most significant increase. All sectors showed improvements in mathematics, but it was a little greater among Hebrew speakers. The overall score rose in English (as a second language) but the main improvement was among Arabic speakers. The most evident improvement was seen in sciences.
The portion of students receiving Bagrut (matriculation) certificates in high school out of all Grade 12 students rose from some 60% to about 70% between 2010 and 2019. Here, too, increases in the Arab sector are particularly noteworthy, with an increase from 50.1% to 69.4%.
The perception that the education system is deteriorating is unfounded
Between 2000 and 2019, the overall number of students in the education system grew by 49%. During that same period, the education system budget grew by 90% and the number of teaching hours by 115%. The number of teaching staff in the education system also grew in the past decade by an annual average of about 3.2%. In high schools, for example, the number of mathematics teachers grew by 47% between 2010 and 2021, and in other science subjects by 34%. This means that the resources currently available to the Israeli education system are far greater than those available a decade earlier.
An improved match between teachers’ training and the subject they teach, primarily in mathematics and English
The study examined the match between the subjects teachers’ trained in and the subjects they teach for language arts (Hebrew), mathematics, and English (as a second language) and found that in primary education, only 20% of teachers in the Hebrew State education system held appropriate qualifications; this had not changed over the past decade. In the Arab education sector, by contrast, teachers whose native language is Arabic receive separate training for teaching Hebrew, and, therefore, the portion of teachers whose educational training matches the subjects they teach is 60%.
In middle school and high school, the situation is better than in primary schools, but a clear trend of deterioration is discernible. Here, too, the situation in the Arab education system is better than in the Hebrew system. This may be due to the sharp drop in the number of students in humanities and social sciences, and the education system’s approach, which focuses more on math and English. Thus, there is an increasing match between teacher training and the subjects they teach in math and English over time, although there continue to be many teachers who did not train in accordance with Ministry of Education requirements.