Public School Un-Education in Jerusalem

Education is a topic that I am absolutely passionate about. It is our future as a family, culture, economy and country.

Public School education is always a thorny issue. I am sure readers in California and New York will sympathize with my Public School travails in Jerusalem.We send our children to public school in Jerusalem because we think it is important to be part of the system and to interact with children from a broad range of social circles and socio-economic backgrounds. We also believe in the school’s Philosophy and like the families it attracts.

Officially and unofficially, I have served on the “board” of my children’s school for the last 5+ years. A group of parents, of which I was one, banded together to save our childrens’ school after a rift caused by a disagreement between the school’s founder and its principal. Following that “crisis,” the school lost approximately 200 students and we found it with a major deficit and hole in the budget.

Over 5 years, we helped recruit a new principal, built the school back to a point where it is much bigger than it was 5 years ago, paid off the deficit and balanced the budget. While the official public school day only lasts until 1:30, our school has classes until 3:30PM. We need to collect extra money for that and for the separation of the sexes we have throughout the day (an additional expense). I am very gratified that despite the relatively high cost of the extras the school offers, we have created an environment where those who can afford it, cover the costs for those who cannot and the school has a liberal scholarship policy. I think this should serve as a wonderful example of blind charity that other schools should emulate.

We view the school not merely as a place to educate our children but as an opportunity to educate as many of Jerusalem’s children as we can in an environment of deep commitment to Jewish law, tolerance, love of your fellow man (that is the schools name) and general studies. To this end, we have an enormous waiting list of children waiting to gain entry into the school and the school continues to show improving results on national tests.

That is where the good news ends. It is common sense and elementary priniciples or management 101 that you need to let a manager manage. Somehow, that lesson seems to have escaped the Israeli Public School system. Unions, Ministry of Education politics and meddling school supervisors all conspire to ensure that unworthy teachers stay in the system and that the principal cannot put together a staff he can work with and the staff he needs to succeed. If that was not enough, they force the Principal to take on teachers who are unsuitable for the schools environment because they are lying around in the “unemployed pool” for whom they need to find jobs.

The system finances schools based on this scheme as well. Instead of budgeting per student and encouraging schools to compete for students, the “System” budgets based on teaching hours. So, you end up with a situation that in order to employ all of the teachers (that of course is the goal of the system), you have schools with 14 kids in a class getting the same budgets and schools with 35 kids in a class. This keeps whithering schools open and denies Israel’s children the ability to get educated in better schools and take their budget with them.

Our school has expanded rapidly in conjunction with our mission statement to service Jerusalem’s children and the school’s success. The Jerusalem Municipality and the Ministry of Education, however, have decided that other children in Jerusalem do not deserve access to this quality education. Despite years of requests to move to a bigger school-building, our school remains in a building suitable for 350 kids. Additionally, we battle for months and years with the Ministry of Education to receive the funds due to the school under law. We still have not received the funds.

Finally (albeit this is not an exhaustive list), Ministry of Education supervisors and bureaucrats continue to assert that the extra money we collect to provide education in the afternoon and duplicate resources to enable separate boys and girls education is inappropriately high. It amounts to ~400 NIS per month (~$90). That is somewhat high by Jerusalem standards but not for the education the school provides. Moreover, since more well-to-do parents essentially subsidize anyone that asks for a scholarship, one would think that this would serve as a model to emulate for socio-economic diversity and co-existence. Instead, the Ministry of Education continues to demand that we reduce it and places roadblocks in the Principal’s path which inhibit the proper functioning of the school.

Is it any wonder that Israel’s educational system is deteriorating every year. The beureacrats heading the Jerusalem school District and the Ministry of Education Supervisors are diluting, if not destroying, our childrens’ education.

If you need more proof, here is a link to a letter (in Hebrew) sent by the head of the Jerusalem Parents Association to the Director General of the Ministry of Education targeted at the supervisor of our childrens’ school and his failings (I received the letter writer’s permission to publish it).

Public School education is very important but we need to find a way to focus on the children and not the “System”. More than once I have been told by a beureaucrat that he or she needs to do something for the “good of the system” such as placing an under-employed teacher in our school. The Government would do well to rapidly implement many of the suggestions in the Dovrat Report. (kudos to Shlomo Dovrat for taking a 1+ years of his life to work for our children’s future).

  1. We need more school autonomy. Let Principals hire and fire teachers and administration. The supervisors and bureacrats should stop meddling. Give parents more of a standing in the school heirarchy.
  2. Schools should be encouraged to recruit students of different socio-economic backgrounds and the government should provide tax incentives for wealthier parents to contribute to scholarship funds at the schools.
  3. We need to give schools a semi-private mandate to schools. the market economy works. If many parents want to send their kids to a school, there must be a reason for that. This is easy to measure. It is a function of demand and objective results such as national tests. The Government and municipalities should focus financial and structural (read: buildings) support to successful schools so they can accomodate more children.

See this link from Ynet for more reports of failed reform

[Originally published on 18th January 2006 by MIchael Eisenberg]