“How to Determine a ‘Successful Jewish Education’ for Secular Jews in Israeli Mamlachti Schools” by Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz – Meir Yoffe and Bark Weiss

Reference: The Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education

This paper represents the first stage of a two stage project for creating “educational measures” that will enable conceptualization of “excellence” and evaluation of “success” in the area of Jewish cultural education in the Israeli Mamlachti (non-Orthodox) school system. In this first stage we offer a theoretical framework for conceptualizing Jewish educational excellence. In the course of January/February 2003 the theoretical framework will undergo testing and refinement as data is collected about the educational activities taking place in Israeli schools (see below).

There is a pressing need for a “measure of educational excellence” designed specifically for Jewish education amongst non-Orthodox Jews. As we will see in the coming pages, there are currently two clear baselines against which educational success is currently conceptualized and evaluated in the Israeli school system: (1) the Religious Measure used by Orthodox Jews and (2) the Bureaucratic Measure used by the Ministry of Education. Neither, of these measures enables an appreciation of the way non-Orthodox Jews understand Jewish culture and construct their connection to the Jewish People. The result is that central players in the area of Jewish education in Israel, such as the Ministry of Education, Foundations and often the schools themselves underestimate and misunderstand the varieties of Jewish cultural education currently found in Israeli Mamlachti schools and the potential for building upon them. The consequence is a marked lack of institutional support for non-Orthodox Jewish education in the Israeli school system, which undermines the ability of those working to further the educational enterprise in this area.

This paper begins with a case study of the current problem, and then offers a description of three distinct measures for conceptualizing and evaluating educational success in the area of Jewish cultural education: (1) the Orthodox Religious Measure, (2) the Bureaucratic Measure used by the Ministry of Education, and (3) a Secular Standard for Jewish Cultural Education. We will elaborate on the differences between the three measures, with the goal of highlighting the unique qualities of “a successful secular Jewish education.”

Drawing from the theoretical description of the concept of success in secular Jewish education, we will propose a measure against which it will be possible to conceptualize and evaluate educational excellence. Our hope is that this measure will serve as: (1) A baseline against which schools can evaluate their own work; (2) a framework, for effectively channeling resources to excellent educational programs; and, (3) a means to enable foundations and the Ministry of Education to measure the results of their investment in secular Jewish education. I. Case Study: The Lack of State Funding for Jewish Education in Mamlachti Schools We offer the following case study, in order to illustrate the need for a clear baseline against which excellence in Jewish education is determined.

I. Case Study: The Lack of State Funding for Jewish Education in Mamlachti Schools
We offer the following case study, in order to illustrate the need for a clear baseline against
which excellence in Jewish education is determined.

Of the 1,292,000 students in the Israeli-Jewish State school system in 2003, 57.6% study in the Mamlachti (non-Orthodox) stream.1 In 1994 the Shenhar Commission, appointed by Zevulun Hammer, the late Minister of Education, urged development of a coherent program of Jewish education to make Jewish and Zionist culture meaningful to the non-Orthodox Jewish population of the Mamlachti schools (Shenhar 1994). While some Education Ministry resources were given over to implementing the Shenhar Commission’s recommendations, they were insufficient to the task at hand and paled next to resources given for Jewish education in Orthodox-Religious Schools and major initiatives that the Ministry has since undertaken in other areas. Moreover, the tools necessary for systematically monitoring and evaluating the educational programming needed to realize the Shenhar vision have not been created (Rash and Ben-Avot 1997).

A major opportunity to implement the Shenhar Commission’s recommendations presented itself in 2003. The Legal Counsel to the Government learned that 300 million shekels of the Ministry of Religion’s budget allocated for the purpose of Jewish education in the school system, was being given exclusively to Orthodox-Religious and Haredi schools. The Legal Counsel ordered the budget be distributed by the Ministry of Education according to professional, rather than sectorial criteria – thereby making it available to Mamlachti schools as well. To implement the directive, the Minister of Education appointed a committee headed by then Deputy Minister (and now member of Knesset) Zvi Handel. The Handel Committee presented its conclusions in November 2003.

The gap between the declarative and operative level was large. At the declarative level the committee stated that an historical moment is at hand, in that a policy of “affirmative discrimination” will be implemented in order to bring necessary funds for Jewish education to the Mamlachti schools. However, in reality, the nature of the funding criteria has made it virtually impossible for Mamlachti schools to qualify for funding.

The criteria were more or less in line with educational activities pursued by Orthodox-Religious, rather non-Orthodox schools. In addition, no effort was made by the Ministry of Education to use the insights provided by the Shenhar report to create more appropriate funding. In order to mitigate the damage, in 2004 Panim2 began a multi-year project to aid Mamlachti schools in negotiating the process of requesting funds made available by the Handel Commission. As a result of the first year of work, 119 (out of a possible 417) Mamlachti schools applied for funds, of which five million shekels (out of a total of 160 million shekels) were granted to 20 schools.

-3% of the available funds were granted to the Mamlachti schools, with 97% going to State-Religious and Haredi schools. Moreover, the money was distributed to the Mamlachti schools with no clear criteria. Schools with noticeably weaker credentials in the area of Jewish cultural education received money, while those with outstanding programs did not.

In order to work against the clear pattern of discrimination, Panim has extended its work vis-àvis the Handel Commission to a multi-year project that will gather data on the educational activities having to do with Jewish cultural education in Mamlachti high schools. This work includes both the collection of empirical data from 250 high schools and the development of an educational measure for conceptualizing excellence and evaluating success of Jewish educational activities covered by the survey. The hope is that the combination of data about actual Jewish educational activity in the schools, along with a means to determine objective criteria for educational excellence, will enable a larger portion of public funds to reach the Mamlachti schools who are making a substantial effort to improve the Jewish education of their students.

II. The “Why,” the “What” and the “How” of Jewish Education

For the reasons detailed in the previous section, there is an urgent need to development a clear measure of educational excellence in the field of Jewish education for non-Orthodox Jews. With a clear set of educational criteria, we expect that it will be easier to highlight patterns of discrimination in the funding process.

The problem is that unlike education in areas such as Math and Science, concepts such as “success” and “excellence” in Jewish education are notoriously hard to define. The very concept of “Jewish Education” is open to multiple and conflicting ideological interpretations. Diverse ideological lenses generate very different answers to such basic questions as: What forms of identity change should occur as the result of participation in an educational program? What is our conception of the “ideal Jew”? What types of institutional support, and what interinstitutional ties are required in order to “succeed” in an educational mission?

-if we can’t measure success in Jewish education, like we measure knowledge and ability in mathematics or physics, then how can we devise a basis for conceptualizing and evaluating educational excellence?

To create evaluative measures we must begin with the ideological reasons “why” we wish to push forward a Jewish educational agenda (Ackerman 1969) in Israeli public schools? If we know “why” we want to create educational programs having to with Judaism and Jewish culture, then we can begin to conceptualize “how” educational goals are to be realized, and “what” must occur in order to state that we have reached our goals (Kopelowitz 2003).

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Panim for Jewish Renaissance in Israel

Paper Submitted to Van Leer Institute