Low Teacher Pay is a Threat to National Security

For the new school year that starts Sept. 1 in Israel: Much can be done to restructure the educational system, but restructuring without pay reform is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

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Dr. Harold Goldmeier,

Dr. Harold Goldmeier
Dr. Harold Goldmeier

With Operation Protective Edge on hold, we can return to the more mundane issues Israel ignored before the war. An inadequate salary paid teachers is a real threat to Israel’s national security. Education Minister Shai Piron (Yesh Atid): take note before your many reforms fail to achieve the change you wish to effect.

An OECD survey finds only one-third of Israel’s teachers feel appreciated. More than 80% would nevertheless enter the profession again. Most get regular feedback on their work from their supervisors. 

So, the problem isn’t with the system.  The system is plagued by spot-overcrowding in classrooms where some schools have closer to 40 students per class despite a national average of 27.6. This is known as the “Sardine Protests” by parents and educators.

The establishment is keeping salaries low by employing more than 25% of the teachers as part-timers and 21% as temps. Israel ranks in the top five of OECD countries in these categories.

Flagging student achievement scores threaten the Start-Up Nation’s economic future and national security. Biomed-tech, hi-tech, agri-tech, aerospace, and international trade, the core of Israel’s economic growth and Israel’s national security defense, must not become dependent on foreigners. But without homegrown stars educated in our own schools, Israel may have to import workers for jobs critical to Israel’s prosperity and survival. 

Israel might soon find itself trapped in the same tenacious web as the U.S. It grants a special class of visa importing STEM specialists to fill shortages in the private sector. Commenting on a report released, May 2014, Israel Comptroller Joseph Shapira grossly understates, “Mathematics education in recent years is worrisome.”  Economic and military sustainability depend on a workforce well educated in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and English.

Professors fret for years about too few students applying for higher education especially in STEM degree programs, and poorer showings in international high school academic Olympiad STEM competitions. As far back as 2012, my articles on the deteriorating quality of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education appeared in The Jerusalem Post and on web sites Arutz Sheva, and Life in Israel.

Their angst is exacerbated by gap differentials between rich and poor, majority and minority populations, and the dearth of qualified teachers in all parts of the country.  Schools compete with the private sector for the best and brightest on a not level playing field.

Start with more money and commitment to quality. You get what you pay for, and teachers are paid far too little. Family breadwinners dedicated to teaching likely to have second jobs. A barely livable wage crushes spirits inhibiting innovation and enthusiasm.

Teachers in Chile and Mexico are paid more money than those in Israel.
A 2012 OECD report, “Education at a Glance,” ranks Israel near the bottom of 40 countries for its inadequate per pupil spending on early childhood and secondary education. Israel ranks high on education spending as a percentage of its GDP, but only 25th of 38 countries in terms of ratio of students to teaching staff in secondary schools.  In these grades, lower student-teacher ratios for STEM and language developments are most critical. Compounding the problem is the low number of hours of teaching time per year. High schools rank about 30th of 35 countries.

A college educated teacher with years of experience is paid half in Israel of what teachers earn in Europe, and a third of what they earn in the U.S. Teachers in Chile and Mexico are paid more money than those in Israel. Salaries are on the rise, but regulations kick in to stymie progress.

An English teacher with a BA from a top U.S. university is good enough to teach in the same public school, the same hours, under the same conditions, but only receives half the pay (about NIS4000 per month) if lacking pedagogical certification. 

The Center for American Progress (CAP) report, “Teacher Pay Reforms,” concludes, “Research convincingly shows that teacher quality is the most important schooling factor influencing student achievement…. Teacher quality swamps the impact of any other educational investment, such as reductions in class size.” And, the prestigious Economic Policy Institute 2013 study concludes, “Investing in education is a core contribution states can make to the well-being of their residents and the national economy overall.”

Businesses hire, promote, and compensate based on education and quality of work. Money entices the best employees spicing it up with recognition, professional development opportunities, benefits and perks, just what is not done in education. It is folderol to expect ablest teachers for less, but wail when children’s test scores plummet and malaise permeates.

Much can be done to restructure the system, but restructuring without pay reform is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Bean counting bulls cutting back education budgets epitomize the ephemeralization of classroom success; i.e., a policy of doing “more and more with less and less until eventually you can do everything with nothing.”

Only my mother and Dr. Seuss knew how to do more with less. Dr, Seuss used 50 words in the prize-winning book Green Eggs and Ham. He also warned, “The more that you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”