From the early 1970s until the mid-1990s, in response to patterns of inequality that had emerged during the early decades following the establishment of the State, the Ministry of Education initiated a series of reforms that changed the structure of secondary education in Israel. Secondary education was transformed from a model of early and relatively inflexible tracking to one of greater diversity in study tracks, academization of the vocational study tracks, provision of choice to students and their parents, and the opportunity to attain a Bagrut (matriculation) certificate in all subjects.
A new study by the Taub Center focuses on the first cohorts that were fully exposed to the reform and who were born between 1978 and 1983 and attended high school during the 1990s. The research demonstrates the long-term effects of the tracking mechanism and the separation between the curricula on the students, including the effect on their likelihood of attaining an academic education and on their earnings in the fourth decade of their lives. The research was conducted by Dr. Eyal Bar-Haim, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Education at Ben-Gurion University, and Prof. Yariv Feniger, a faculty member in the Department of Education at Ben-Gurion University and a fellow in the Taub Center Education Policy Program. The researchers show that inequality in educational opportunity also creates gaps in the labor market and that inequality remains substantial today, even after decades of educational reforms.
In general, the study expands upon the existing body of knowledge on the relationship between students’ socioeconomic backgrounds and the way in which the education system sorts them into study tracks in high school, as well as the effect of this sorting on their likelihood of acquiring an academic degree and on their earnings in adulthood. The researchers differentiate between five main tracks in secondary education in Israel: the advanced science technology track, the regular academic track, the basic academic track, the advanced technological track, and the vocational track. The findings show that a student’s track in high school explains about 30% of the variation in wage gaps. Placement in a track is therefore related to educational and earnings gaps later in life, and the tracking mechanism is an important factor in preserving class differences in Israel.
More specifically, the research examines for the first time the solution developed by the Ministry of Education in the 1990s to meet the needs of low-achieving students. Many of these students come from weaker socioeconomic backgrounds and while in the past most of them were placed in vocational tracks, since the 1990s many of them are being referred to the basic academic track. Even though this change raised the rates of eligibility for a Bagrut certificate among its graduates, the findings show that they have a lower likelihood of attaining an academic education and they have lower average earnings, which are quite similar to those of graduates from the vocational track.
According to the researchers, the findings demonstrate a major barrier to educational and employment mobility. The reform changed the study tracks but not their outcomes and essentially, the “tracking effect” continues to exist today.