International Education: On Location in Israel
Penn Superintendent Shares Views
No Child Left Behind’s requirement to review disaggregated data forced us to, in the words of Jim Collins in “Good to Great,” “confront the brutal facts.” While our students’ overall performance was significantly above state and national averages, the disaggregated data revealed two achievement gaps: African-American and special education students.
In response we developed our “Opportunities to Learn” initiative, which began with a district-wide committee led by the superintendent and consisting of over 100 teachers, administrators, students, parents, school board members and community representatives. Under this initiative, we developed and implemented a plan to “de-track” the secondary school program to include, to the maximum extent possible, students with Individualized Education Programs in mainstreamed classes and to organize the school day schedule to provide academic support opportunities where needed. The plan resulted in each core subject area offering only two levels of rigorous college preparatory instruction — a college preparatory course and an Honors/Advanced Placement course. We also implemented extensive professional development to prepare for the demands of de-tracking and, by the inclusion of special education students in regular education, college preparatory courses.
Since the implementation of this initiative, the disparity between the performance of our All-Student group and the African-American and IEP disaggregated groups has been narrowed significantly, while the All-Student group has improved as well. At the secondary level the disparity has been reduced by between 5 and 19 percentage points. In three years the All-Student group in mathematics has improved from 77 percent to 81 percent proficient, the African-American group has gone from 55 percent to 65 percent proficient, and the IEP group has gone from 31 percent to 65 percent proficient. In reading, the All-Student group has increased from 82 percent to 85 percent proficient, the African-American group has gone from 67 percent to 73 percent proficient, and the IEP group has gone from 42 percent to 58 percent proficient.
I was fortunate to be invited to this fall’s America-Israel Friendship League’s School Superintendents Delegation to Israel — where we toured several schools that operate quite differently from our schools here; we noted a range of teaching methods, curricula, and student achievement. We visited the ORT Astronomy and Space High School and College, a very impressive, high-level institution. It is considered one of the best high schools in the country, and Principal Nisim Yaluz was recently honored with Israel’s top educator award. After Jerusalem, we began briefings at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, met two deputy spokespersons, and visited the International Center for Enhancement of Learning. We visited several cultural and historical sites, including the awe-inspiring Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial – Israel’s official memorial to the martyrs and heroes of the Holocaust. We had a very informative meeting with Dr. Shimshon Shoshani, director general of the Ministry of Education, where we learned more about education and education philosophy in Israel. We heard some of the same issues that we experience, including the need for financial assistance from government and ongoing issues to narrow achievement gaps.
In Tel Aviv we met Karen Tal, a school principal who has become a media celebrity. Her school, Bialik Rogozin, was the most diversely integrated school we saw on our trip. It very much resembles a large, urban American school. During her five-year tenure, Principal Tal has increased the graduation rate from 28 percent to 73 percent. Bialik Rogozin is affirmation that an outstanding principal and dedicated teachers are the primary ingredients needed for school transformation.
Our experiences in Israel were both educational and provocative in nature. They make me think about all the good we do in U.S. schools and in our own schools in the Abington School District, and they have provided several ideas for future growth as well. #
Amy F. Sichel, Ph.D., is the superintendent of schools of the Abington School District in Pennsylvania.