What Education Costs Us

Poor kids get worse educations and graduate from high school at lower rates than rich kids. That’s bad. What could be worse? The Bank of Israel’s annual report (not yet available on line, but here’s a report in today’s Ha’aretz) says that the education gap has remained virtually the same since 1992. We’ve made no progress at all.

Or Kashti writes there:

The study found that in the 2004-05 academic year, the proportion of students who earned a bagrut (matriculation) certificate was 25.5 percentage points higher in the two highest socioeconomic deciles than in the two lowest deciles. That is almost identical to the gap recorded in 1992-93 – 25.3 percentage points

There are a lot of reasons for the failure of the People of the Book to produce a decent school system here-low teacher salaries, bloated bureaucracy, party politics-but the Bank of Israel points out a major reason why the gap persists, as Kashti tells us:

The gap is due in large part to the fact that wealthier families can and do spend considerable sums of money on private education to supplement what their children receive from the public school system, the report said. “Today, every 10 percent increase in family income raises the percentage of [students who] matriculate by an average of some 0.4 percentage points….”

That strikes close to home. In 2007, my middle-class family spent a full 12 percent of its combined income on education-about 40 percent of that on high school tuition and 60 percent on private tutoring. That’s 60 percent above our mortgage payments, more than our entire grocery bill for the year. It was the single largest item in our budget. Excuse me, the second largest-the largest outlay went to taxes, in exchange for which the government, by law, is supposed to provide us with free education through twelfth grade.

Actually, our educational outlays have declined over the last few years, as the two oldest children completed high school. Imagine what I was paying when I had four children in the system.

Technically, only colleges and universities are allowed to charge tuition to their students, not high schools. The reason might be that high schools provide a basic level of education which is almost the same for each student, whereas in colleges these students get to pick a line of career and focus particularly on their preferred stream of higher education, which can make tuition fees worth the expense. Plus, with the assistance of finance companies like SoFi or similar others, students can also take up financial aid and relieve their parents of much pressure in terms of expenses. Despite that, some high schools charge tuition, which might be illegal, but parents pay gladly because without these extra sums the schools would be able to offer only the bare-bones program that the state pays for. This under-the-table system has two negative consequences. First, kids grow up observing close up that the way things get done in this country is by the exchange of cash under the table (see yesterday’s conviction of a former cabinet minister on bribery charges, just the latest in a long string of such scandals). Second, since the payments are technically illegal, the schools and paying parents have no means of enforcing them. So there are lots of freeloaders who get the benefits and don’t pay.

Why do I need to spend so much on private tutors for my kids? My eleventh-grade son and ninth-grade daughter are bright and talented, but they have learning disabilities. We’ve discovered over the years that most Israeli schools and educators have no real knowledge of how to teach such kids. There is a lot of goodwill but little training. And the budgets available for providing such kids with the small groups and individual attention they need are miniscule.

With some effort, we found some of the school systems with teaching staffs aware of and able to get the best out of these two children. But even though these schools provide a lot of help, we still have to supplement their efforts with private instruction. What the schools offer is simply not sufficient. If they had taken a little more effort to set up fundraisers for schools and improve the teaching standards, most of the students studying there would not have had to seek separate private education.

The money is well-spent. My eleventh-grade son is on his way to completing his high school graduation exams successfully. He’s motivated, happy, and a hard worker.

But at the end of each month, when I write out the checks to his four private teachers, I am painfully aware of how lucky my kids are. A short walk away from our house are public housing projects where parents struggle to feed their kids. They can’t possibly afford the tuition and private tutoring costs we incur. And in those housing projects, in Jerusalem, in other cities, in the development towns, live thousands of kids with learning disabilities whose lives are going to waste.

These kids won’t earn a high school graduation certificate; as a result they won’t go to college; as a result of that, they will work at low-paying jobs; as a result of that the education gap fifteen years from now will be as large as it is today.

I’ve been invited to participate next week in a discussion about a vision for Israel’s educational future. I attended another such discussion a couple weeks ago. The fact is that we have vision aplenty. What no one seems to know is how to turn visions into reality. The first order of the day must be how to close the education gap between the rich and the poor.

3 thoughts on “What Education Costs Us”

  1. It is interesting how a state formed in the name of “socialism” and “equality” has degenerated into a money grubbing society. In the 1950’s the slogan was “In Israel, the working class rules”. The MAPAI and LABOR party to this day claims it represents the interests of “the poor” (even though its voters are the richest elements of society). The Likud, which replaced LABOR as the main ruling party since 1977, got most of the working-class vote, yet they too, helped create this soul-less society. I attribute this to the atheist-Socialist nature of the rulers of Israel in its early years. Socialism created a suffocating, corrupt economic system, and when those who claimed to believe in it realized it was a failure, they threw out all their beliefs (along with the Zionism that was part of it) and now they aspire to having a soul-less, materialist, consumer society. And instead of building a true capitalist society which is supposed to benefit the consumer through free competition, instead these old socialists and their children used their connections with the government to create cartels and monopolies which continue to exploit the consumer. For example, Israel has a free-trade agreement with the United States, and with the weak dollar, we sould be seeing inexpensively priced American goods on the shelves, yet this is not the case. In fact I am seeing FEWER American food products available than a couple of years ago. Obviously the Israeli producers are succeeding in keeping these American goods out, in spite of the “free trade” area. So much for their supposed belief in real “capitalism”. Israel gets all the disadvantages of it without many of its benefits.

  2. Part of the problem is the centralized top-down education regime, leaving superior educators less room to innovate. The Education Ministry is not sought after as a position to make a positive change in society, but is another way of getting a Volvo and becoming a macher in government. This politicization also leads to shelving potential good ideas, like those proposed by the Dovrat Commission. Since Dovrat was set up by the previous government, it has to be ignored by the current one, despite any good ideas it may have. Why not install Dovrat’s proposals in five or ten representative cities and see how they play out? With the education system in the toilet, experimentation like that wouldn’t make things worse.

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