Israel: Lots of laureates, low scores

Israel produces lots of Nobel laureates and high-tech start-ups, but scores are low on international tests. Why can’t Israel fix its schools? asks Philissa Cramer, writing in The New Republic.

The national scores reflect “wide achievement gaps” with Jewish students outperforming Arabs and immigrants struggling to catch up to the native-born, she writes.  There are secular state schools, state religious schools ,  ultra-orthodox schools (sort of Jewish madrassas) and schools for Arab speakers.

Israel offers nearly universal preschool — 85 percent of children attend — but it doesn’t seem to help.  Children go on to schools with large classes and short days. Teachers are poorly educated teachers and very poorly paid. Discipline is a problem.

Israelis are starting to use test scores to improve instruction, but tests never are used to hold principals or teachers accountable for their students’ progress, Cramer writes.

Teaching citizenship is seen as more important than teaching academics, she adds.

Indeed, Israelis load onto their schools the varied and imposing duties of closing social gaps, assimilating immigrants, sustaining Zionist ideology, inculcating character traits, and inspiring students’ confidence. . . . suggesting, as Israeli educators often do, that it doesn’t matter whether students learn academic content, or what type they do learn, as long as they assimilate or are enthusiastic about the idea of learning would put most American educators far outside the mainstream.

Recently, Israel has raised teachers’ salaries and work hours.

South Koreans are studying the Talmud, which they call Light of Knowledge, because they figure Jews are smart and it’s a Jewish book, reports Israel National News.  Korea’s ambassador to Israel, Ma Young-Sam, told the “Culture Today” TV show that Talmud study is now a mandatory part of the country’s school curriculum.

 
Why? “We were very curious about the high academic achievements of the Jews,” Young-Sam explained, according to a Ynet report. “Jews have a high percentage of Nobel laureates in all fields – literature, science and economics. This is a remarkable achievement. We tried to understand: What is the secret of the Jewish people? How are they, more than other people, able to reach those impressive accomplishments? Why are Jews so intelligent? The conclusion we arrived at is that one of your secrets is that you study the Talmud… We believe that if we teach our children Talmud, they will also become geniuses. This is what stands behind the rationale of introducing Talmud study to our school curriculum.”
  
. . . He also praised the Talmud and the Jewish tradition it represents for its family values, respect for adults, and respect for education in general.

Korean students outperform Israelis — and most of the world — on international tests.

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