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MARCH 2007

Superintendents Reflect on Education in Israel

Twelve educators from across the United States recently joined together on an education mission to Israel under the aegis of the America Israel Friendship League (AIFL), spear-headed by Dr. Charlotte Frank, Senior Vice President of McGraw-Hill. The following are their reflections.

Charlotte Frank

Dr. Charlotte K. Frank,
Sr. Vice President- Research & Development
Mcgraw-Hill Education

Isolated programs to improve the quality of education for all children as well as to bring together Arab and Israeli children and their families was exciting and could be a model for the rest of Israel. The Hand in Hand school design where Israeli families bring their children to a school in an Arab community and there were two teachers each speaking their own language connecting to both groups of children was interesting to see. The ATIDIM after school approach showed immigrant students from the Ukraine and Ethiopia with vastly improved academic performance. The ORT schools where technology is evident throughout the school and during the learning day was a real model of success for the rest of Israel and clearly other countries because we are all more similar than different in our multi-national needs to close the achievement gap between all ethnic groups as well as to raise the achievement of the top level of student performers.#

Peter Yarrow

Peter Yarrow
Of Peter, Paul And Mary,
President And Founder, Operation Respect

The American Israel Friendship League’s educational delegation trip to Israel afforded participants a remarkably intimate look at Israel’s education system. More than anything, this trip provided a moving testament to Israel’s educators, students, and educational leaders to defy the challenges to budget cuts to education, the recent legacy of military conflict, still all too fresh. With teachers’ salaries extremely low, and primary education academic results plummeting, educators are nevertheless redoubling their efforts to create solutions with diminished resources. With inspiring courage and enthusiasm, they move forward with commitment to preparing students for productive careers and for Israel’s over arching need for their energetic civic participation, crucial on all levels to the survival of their country.

In Israel, there is compulsory military service for all men and women and, perhaps reflecting this necessity, all of the educators we met were intensely focused on enforcing the dedication of students to not only strengthen the infrastructure of their economy, but also to build an ever more fair and peaceful society for Israel’s future, one that is dedicated to peaceful coexistence with its neighbors.

We learned about some new remarkable educational programs that Israeli educators have designed. Some programs provide special resources and financial support for students who have special abilities but live in relatively marginalized communities. Others inculcate respect and understanding between Jewish and Arab student populations. Virtually all of these new programs have apparently been introduced quickly, demonstrating the flexibility of Israel’s education system that can speedily adopt new initiatives and give them ample room to prove their viability. The students involved in these new educational programs are extremely optimistic about their own lives, consciously grateful for this special consideration given to them, and eager to serve their country to repay the generosity afforded them. In every case they demonstrated an extraordinary, passionate love of their country and a steadfast hope that they, the next generation, can find evermore effective solutions to the internal and external challenges to Israel.

When Gene Carter, President of the Association for School Curriculum Development and co-leader of the trip, along with Dr. Charlotte Frank, Senior Vice President of Research and Development at McGraw-Hill Education, and Former Director of Curriculum Instruction at the New York City Board of Education, asked some Israeli high school students what they would say if they were given the opportunity to have a direct conversation with high school students in surrounding countries (nations with whom Israel has had a history of extreme hostilities) they immediately affirmed, “We can work this out. Let’s sit down and talk this through. We can find solutions!” I say bravo to the audacity of Israeli youth in all its hopefulness and unfettered idealism. All of the educators looked with great respect, and even envy, upon some remarkable aspects of the challenged, but unbowed, educational leaders, practitioners and students of Israel.

In turn, we were all grateful to AIFL for allowing us an inspiring visit to Israel, one that can help us in our own advocacies in our educational work in the US and beyond.

Michael Barlow

Michael Barlow,
President, Barlow Education Management Services, Oklahoma

It was both interesting and disappointing to hear so many ministry officials report that Israel has and continues to copy educational initiatives from the U.S system, regardless of the success/failure rate of their programs in the U.S..

It was hopeful to see the initiatives aimed at socialization and understanding between Israeli Arabs and Jews. The Israeli education system clearly understands that education is a basic key component of any peace initiative.

Eric Nadelstern

Eric Nadelstern,
CHIEF Executive Officer for Empowerment Schools, New York

There are startling similarities between the problems in Israel schools and those of the United States. Chief among these are:
1. Insufficient financial and human resources that are mal-distributed on the basis of student need.
2. Differentiated outcomes by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, level of parental education and geography.
3. A school system that serves to diffuse responsibility and obscure accountability.

And then there are hopeful similarities as well, which include remarkable examples of successful efforts in the face of formidable challenges. These include:
1. An elementary school managed by Hand-to-Hand in an Arab village outside of Haifa, where Jewish and Arab students learn to value one another.
2. An ORT secondary school in Tel Aviv that succeeds with challenged students.
3. An after school program called ATIDIM that identifies children with potential from rural areas and provides them with the support necessary to succeed at the highest levels.

On balance, I’m left with enormous optimism in the capacity of both our countries to educate all students well. AIFL is helping to make that happen by bringing us together.

Dr. Steven C. Norton

Dr. Steven C. Norton,
Superintendent of Schools Cache County School District, North Logan, Utah

Israel has much in common with K-12 education in the United States. Israel faces even greater challenges than does the United States with multiple languages spoken by students in every classroom. Israel is faced with trying to make separate schools work for two very different cultures. Israel is working very hard to achieve educational excellence for all children. Israel students share the same goals and dreams as American students do, even with serious distractions all around them.

In conclusion, I believe the best is yet to come in Israel. The students who have immigrated these past five years will be an influence to changing the climate in the school systems and the culture in the Middle East.

Francine Eisenrod

Francine Eisenrod,
Director Of Special Projects,
L.A. Unified School District

This was my first trip to Israel, and every minute was filled with memorable and important educational experiences. Initially, work-related deadlines and a concern with safety issues while traveling in Israel almost prevented me from accepting the invitation extended by the America Israel Friendship League. Being a prudent traveler, I maintained my awareness of my surroundings, while capturing the essence of the country. Upon my return, a frequently asked question from my colleagues was, “Did you feel safe?” I am able to state that I felt safe at all times.

This truly was an intense, comprehensive visit that had our group traveling from one end of Israel to another. A very powerful aspect of the mission was the opportunity to meet with key educational leaders, both in Israel and the United States, and learn of their challenges and initiatives.

We discussed the Israeli version of the No Child Left Behind Act along with many other similarities between our two educational systems. Also, I learned of their disturbingly high drop-out rate. This is one similarity I did not expect. Another surprise was learning of the critical teacher shortage in Israel. Teachers in Israel are paid at a very low hourly rate and have low professional status. In spite of all the enormous challenges, I was thrilled to visit schools that are truly remarkably innovative, creating learning environments that are culturally relevant, personalized, and challenging. Urban school districts throughout the United States face many similar challenges; therefore, we should take advantage of the opportunity to evaluate Israel’s innovative programs and consider incorporating some of their powerful strategies into our own educational environments.

The most poignant and lasting memory of this trip will undoubtedly be the students as they expressed their immense pride in their country and spoke so eloquently about their desire for peace.  Their maturity in tone and expression transcend their years. 

This mission has renewed my determination not only to continue the Youth Ambassador Student Exchange (YASE) program in the Los Angeles Unified School District, but to work toward expanding the program. It is one of the best methods to increase tolerance, respect, and understanding among people.

I wish to thank the America Israel Friendship League for this invaluable experience. And a sincere thank you to my fellow colleagues whose participation throughout the mission enriched my experience.

Dr. Barbara Moore Pulliam

Dr. Barbara Moore Pulliam,
Superintendent of Schools,
Clayton County Public Schools, GA

In February I had the opportunity to visit Israel, a country located in the Middle East, a country where there is much strife and conflict—or so we hear. The Israel I visited was warm and inviting, I felt at home. In fact, there was much about Israel that reminded me of home.

But as I reflect on my visit, I observed that Israel is a place where people are proud of their heritage and their country; it is a place where people want to give back to the country that is their home; it is a place where people are determined to work for peace with a gutsiness that transcends the challenges that may be confronted day-to-day. The Israel I visited was a place full of history that spans thousands of years, yet history that is familiar to all. This is a country where there is hope for a better world for the children, as adults work at ways to press for peace.

I listened to the voices of children; children who wanted to share with me information about who they are and what their hopes are. And, children who wanted to learn much from me. I listened to children who have a deep appreciation and love for their country, children who seem to know instinctively that they must give back. I listened to children who were inquisitive and who wanted to know and learn much about the world and other countries in the world in order to become better citizens for their homeland—Israel. And, I listened to children who were proud and who conveyed that sense of pride in their everyday living.

I learned that the United States does have a special relationship with Israel. What I learned from listening caused me to hope that the children I work with everyday would have that same sense of pride about the country I call home—the USA. #

Dr. David Goin

Dr. David Goin,
Edmond, Oklahoma

The recent educators’ mission to Israel was an enlightening and valuable experience that deepened my appreciation for the people of the state of Israel and for the challenges they face. I also found delightful the quality of professional and social interactions among mission participants from across the United States.

The schedule was packed with meetings at school sites, in hotel conference rooms, and in various government facilities. We interacted with teachers, principals, students, program administrators, officials with Israel’s Ministry of Education, an Israeli brigadier general, and with a Bedouin family that hosted us for dinner in a tent.

Of great benefit was traveling through much of Israel—witnessing its people, its natural scenery and diverse terrain. It also was eye opening to drive past the vestiges of prior conflicts and to see armed soldiers and guards virtually “everywhere.”

I gleaned much from the comments of our personable and knowledgeable guide, whether on the bus, at the Museum of the Diaspora, or as we made our way through the fortress Masada. And, it was deeply moving to hear about and see images of the Holocaust at the museum in Jerusalem.

Thoughts on the educational system:

While the concept of “free public education” is in law, the manner and quality of educational services afforded students in Israel varies greatly—from levels of funding, to quality and availability of teachers and facilities, etc. It appears that “free” is open to multiple definitions from school to school and community to community. Having said that, though, schools in Israel seem to face many of the same types of challenges we address here in the United States.

Speakers left the impression that state monies are allocated to schools based upon a weighting of student population needs. However, the ability and willingness of city governments to further support schools would appear to have created a situation of true “have” and “have not” schools across the country. Other pieces in the varied tapestry of educational opportunities to which we were exposed included ORT schools, ATIDIM placements, and Hebrew/Arab schools sponsored by Hand in Hand.

I was particularly impressed at the appearance and delivery of students who are being served through the ATIDIM program. These articulate and highly motivated students expressed tremendous appreciation for the opportunities afforded them through ATIDIM. The words and feelings they communicated seemed to exude a love for country and fellowman that was quite remarkable. To a person, beyond personal success their hopes were to give back to their country and people and to advance Israel’s standing in the world.

Students also spoke about the challenges of living in a country in which “peace” among peoples is a dream. They spoke about their hope of accomplishing meaningful dialogue within Israel and between neighboring countries toward bringing about mutual respect and harmony across the diverse cultures of the Middle East.

This was truly a life-enhancing experience for me. By extension, I believe that Israeli and American students’ participation in the YASE program has and will continue to create opportunities for young people of both countries to develop a greater appreciation for the blessings and a deeper understanding of problems faced by their respective communities.



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