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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  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Cultures vary, said Thomas Sowell, and differences have consequences. Be strange if all cultures responded identically to an educational system. Given the kind of test averaging done in this country and, apparently, in Israel where universal education which makes at least a stab at college prep for all, you win or lose based not on your ed system but on your demographics.
    From which one may deduce the problem may not be in the ed system.

  2. As my husband helpfully pointed out many of the successful ‘Jews’ are not religious and have never studied the Talmud. They’re only GENETICALLY Jewish.

  3. So really, the question is:
    Are they the chosen people because they’re so smart, or are they so smart because they were chosen?

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Or are they smart because they’ve had so much environmental pressure that they were forced to evolve smart?

  5. Stacy in NJ says:

    If Jews are smart because of environmental pressure, why are Asians smart? Same reason? Jews aren’t just smart; they’re also creative and innovative thinkers (widely successful across creative fields). Are Asians creative and innovative thinkers? I think not so much.

    Nature vs. Nurture
    DNA vs. Culture

    My head hurts – but then I’m not Jewish or Asian.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    Ashkenazic Jews are supposed to be 1SD above the average in IQ. That’s more than Asians are.
    i was being somewhat facetious. However, somebody years ago opined that, since western societies in the Middle Ages did not allow Jews to own land and farm, but did allow them to lend at interest–a sin for Christians–the sturdy, middling intelligent guy capable of farming or some bucolic trade was not going to succeed. There was nothing for him to do. Among other things, he was not good marriage material and marriage arrangers, presuming they existed as popularly supposed, would not put them out as prize catches.
    Humans face too many similar problems from one location and one era to another for there to be any likelihood of local evolution for solving one unique set of problems, even if not at the cost of solving some other problems.
    However, do some physical anthro and you’ll find more and more narrower and narrower physical traits laid to local conditions. For example, East Africans are better distance runners than West Africans or those from the Congo Basin. They were mostly herders endlessly trotting after their herds in the Highlands, rather than at lower altitudes of West Africa and the Basin where most people made a living at hoe agriculture, rewarding peak strength and not great cardopulmonary development. Coincidence? Evolution? Your call.
    I did enough physical anthro, by the way, to know that there are roads which Must Not Be Taken.
    Ask me–don’t–about swimming.

  7. Aaron Marcus says:

    Re: South Koreans studying Talmud.

    Sounded fishy to me. This blog appears to have the story behind the story: