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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Live-blogging Bibi's press conference on education

[Read the post above this one to find out what this post is and how it came about. I will try to italicize what I add three and a half hours later. I will also correct spelling and grammar. Live blogging is hard enough - live blogging from one language to another is harder].

Opening statement starts exactly on time at 10:30. Bibi sees us with our open laptops and asks if we're bloggers. [He came over and shook a couple of hands, including mine].

Education ensures equality of opportunity. It's the best way out of economic disparities in society. [The economic disparities in our society are a constant social theme here. We allegedly have one of the most imbalanced distributions of wealth in the world. The chairman of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fischer, has been known to quip that we can get rid of our economic disparities by getting rid of high tech]. Education is the most important social tool to reduce disparities. Bibi hopes to put education at the top of the agenda. He wants to make education cabinet like we have a security cabinet, and to sit as chairman himself and give the education minister backing like [Ariel] Sharon gave him as finance minister. He believes we can restore our educational standing in the next decade. [The education minister will] need to coordinate with other ministries - he will use [the education] cabinet for that purpose.

We [the Likud] have experience at carrying out reform - just like we [the Likud] made a revolution in the economy, we [the Likud] can make a revolution in education. Here's the program.

Education is the best way to close disparities. When education is not good enough, parents see to improving conditions if they are able to do so through private tutors and 'gray education,' which just increases the disparities. People with more education have a much lower unemployment rate and earn much more. People with 16+ years of education earn 50% more than those with 13-15 years of education.

From 1990-2002 there was a dramatic increase in spending per student on education. The big jump started with Rabin's term in office which added NIS 7 billion to the education system. But only 32% passed the IDF reading tests by 2002 (compared with 60% in 1985 - which was not great either). Even Iran did better than Israel in the last international Math competition.

We need more than to add funding. We need to raise teacher salaries but that is not enough. Australia tripled spending and it didn't help. France doubled and it didn't help. Bibi did a lot of investigating overseas and spent years looking at what successful economies did. What he discovered was things that Israel never did. The countries that are successful all do the same things, and we don't do any of them.

The most influential thing is quality of teachers. It's not just a question of teacher salaries. If you take a good teacher and bad teacher with similar students (ages 8-11), the difference between them [after four years in which they started at the 50th percentile] is 90th percentile to 37th percentile. We can't have a Russian roulette with teachers. How do successful countries recruit good teachers?

Finland, South Korea and Singapore raised the acceptance level for education in order to attract stronger students to study education. They take the top of the class and say that they are the ones who are worthy of being teachers [and no one else]. The profession's honor is dictated by the high standard that is required for acceptance. Salaries have to be raised, but the most important thing is to raise the acceptance level [so that only the best students are being trained to become teachers in the first place. Bibi argued that just as the elite units in the army aren't paid more than anyone else, but people want them because they are the hardest units to get into, so too if we make teaching the hardest profession to get into, people who are stronger academically will compete to get into it. He attributed this to the value of prestige. It's a nice idea, but in practice, I'm not sure it will work. People become doctors and lawyers and computer programmers when there are high paying jobs available and not because it's so hard to get into medical school, unless they love the profession for other reasons].

Second, once you raise the level of those accepted to the program, you have to go all out to educate the teachers in the best way possible.

Third, once you have finished being educated as a teacher, you have to have continuing education just like doctors (and lawyers in other countries CiJ) do. We have to train people constantly. In South Korea they get 100 hours per year of continuing education. In Israel, until recently it was 0. Today, [continuing education] can be done [more efficiently] online. We have to do the same things that these countries do. We have to do this for teachers currently in the system too - they have had no continuing training since they started teaching. Teacher quality is the most important thing.

Fourth, these countries concentrate on the core subjects. Here in Israel, we spend only 56.1% of our time on core subjects. In the OECD, it's 93.2%. Today, with a worldwide economy, we have to compete on a worldwide scale. We have to give students the basic tools to study professions.

We need a breakthrough - not just a few more hours and a slightly higher salary. The goal is to restore Israel's children to the top tenth within the next decade. We have to get back to the top tenth in the next decade in all international tests. This will give every child an equal chance.

The program has five steps:

1. Best educators through training, etc. including higher salaries.
2. Principals must be given independence. They have to be allowed to run the schools. There's no such thing as a good school without a good principal. In some places, principals don't have skills and you can make everyone fail. Principals have to be trained as managers as a separate profession from teaching. Have to give them responsibility on parts (at least) of their budget and make them responsible for results. When you're responsible for results, you raise your level.
3. Focus on core subjects. He includes Tanach (scriptures) and history as core subjects. [One of the results of the left-wing control of the education ministry over the past several years is that almost no Jewish heritage is taught in the public schools. As a result, kids have no idea why they are in Israel, and so they adopt the Arab narrative that labels us interlopers and colonists. CiJ]
4. In top countries, they don't allow kids to lag behind. Not every child is the same. But you can raise every child's level. These systems identify those who are falling beneath the level of the class. They don't wait for year-end tests or matriculation exams. They deal with these kids the day they identify. They watch them in real time. In Ganei Tikva [a suburb of Tel Aviv, for example], they have kids answering questions online and the teacher can see who is answering correctly and who is not [and can therefore intervene more quickly when there is a problem]. We need to do this all over.
5. Returning values to education - democracy, civic-mindedness, history, Zionism, Jewish heritage, but also discipline and respect for parents and teachers. Education is built on discipline. We are under constant attack over the legitimacy of our existence. Time after time we are attacked and now the 'naqba' is being brought into our schools! Nothing like this has ever happened in history. We will remove the 'naqba' and return Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion, who are the ones who brought Jews to Israel.

The proper approach is not to throw money at the system; the approach is to dictate the results and then to spend what's necessary to reach those results. We need a clear vision, political power, and courage in leadership. No matter what there will be criticism. The most important thing is to be able to stand up to the criticism. He plans to do this through an education cabinet.

Questions and answers:

[The first two questions both tried to push Bibi to name his education minister and other proposed staffers. He wouldn't do that]. He is not handing out offices yet. He wouldn't say who his education minister would be. New government to focus on security, economy and education. Therefore, he is setting up a system in which he will be able to give best back-up to the education minister. He wants to give the same backing that Sharon gave him in finance.

We may reach elections soon. Right now, we're not there. But Likud made tremendous change in economy that was about to collapse and today [the economy] is standing up against the economic storm in the world. That's not enough - [the economy] needs to be updated - but it shows that the Likud will stand up against popular pressure and it can and will carry out reforms.

Another question to try to get names out of him. He believes that the most important thing is that the Prime Minister has to be able to force reform through. He talked about how he forced through cancellation of foreign currency restrictions ten years ago. Backing from the Prime Minister is what enables change.

Haaretz reporter asks about cuts in education budget from 2001-05. Bibi pulls out another slide. [He anticipated the question]. The budget was more or less constant [on an inflation-adjusted basis] from 2002-05. Cutbacks were 1-2% (Bibi was finance minister until 2005). This was during a period when we were in a recession. Education was exempted from across-the-board cuts. What matters isn't the budget, but how it's used. The same thing is true across the economy.

How to measure success? Compared to current achievments of the school - see if results improve. He believes that budget decisions have to be made to encourage teachers to teach in development towns (lower socio-economic classes).

A fellow blogger asked about cheating in the classroom and about how he plans to teach Jewish heritage. Cheating will go away once you put in an expectation of discipline. Bibi thinks that they pledge allegiance every day in the US - he wants to implement the same thing here. Well, it's not quite true there either.... But he wants to teach independence but also a sense of social responsibility. Do well in school - everyone should have the same opportunity. Teach facts about our history to teach them Jewish heritage and the history of the State of Israel. The truth, which is being diluted by propaganda, will win out. Remove the 'naqba' and return Jabotinsky.

[A reporter asked] What will Bibi do with ultra-Orthodox who have been exempted from the core studies [by a Knesset bill passed several months ago]? [Bibi says there are] Three important points. First, you have to be realistic. Better to impose core studies [standards] on 80% and succeed than try to impose it on 100% and get 0%. Second, he believes there's change in ultra-Orthodox (and Arabs) who want these subjects themselves because they need to go out to work so they need these core subjects. Therefore, you see the ultra-Orthodox studying the core subjects because they have to go to work. [From my own experience in the ultra-Orthodox community, this is correct, although it's happening more slowly than one might expect hearing Bibi. No one likes to talk about it, but I think most of the community understands that 100% of the men studying Talmud all day long is not likely to go on for another generation - there is no means of supporting it. On the other hand, that has yet to be translated into serious secular studies in most of the ultra-Orthodox schools. CiJ] Third, [core subjects] can only be [introduced into the ultra-Orthodox schools CiJ] by discussion and by negotiation and not by force.

Another blogger asked him about the teachers' union's opposition to the current reform. Bibi answered that what seems to be good will be kept. What's not good will be jettisoned. All we're looking for is a change in results. The 'naqba' will go immediately. He was in the same position when he was finance minister. But you can't reinvent the wheel on every point. Zionism and excellence - those are his themes.


In case anyone from Bibi's office is reading, there is one question I wanted to ask but did not get to ask. A year ago, Comrade Yuli publicized a letter she received objecting to Jewish kids hiking in the Golan as a 'provocation against Syria.' Does Netanyahu regard hikes that teach the kids the country's heritage as part of the 'core subjects'? And how does he plan to integrate those types of hikes into his new education program, if he believes they are important.

Maybe I'll send this to one of Bibi's aides....


At 9:55 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

What's needed Carl - is more Jewish education. The exact opposite of the secularist, pacifist and rootless education Israel children are receiving today. If they grow up not knowing their heritage and from where they come, Israel will not have much of a future.

At 2:00 PM, Blogger Leah Goodman said...

Norman: absolutely!
The real question I have is what the heck are they going to do about discipline in a system where teachers can't even send a kid out of the classroom for bad behavior in many schools?


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