Policy for Reducing the Divide Between Arab and Hebrew Education


The education system is a fundamental, critical stage in the acquisition of human capital, which has been found to be the main cause of the income gaps between Arab and Jewish households in Israel. However, data shows that the Israeli education system fails to bridge the gaps stemming from the socioeconomic backgrounds of students in Arab education, or to provide the necessary tools for optimal integration in society and in the labor market. Students in Arab education perform significantly worse than their counterparts in Hebrew education: In 2019, only 44% of Arab youth at the age of 18 were eligible for a matriculation certificate, as opposed to 80% of non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish 18-year-olds, and a similar gap can be seen in the eligibility for matriculation with distinction.


International exams which test proficiency levels also reveal significant achievement gaps, and Israel actually ranks as having the widest gaps between strong and weak students among participating countries. Proficiency gaps also arise in regard to digital skills, which become increasingly important nowadays, and the achievements of Arab students in these international exams rank at the very bottom, even below those of students from developing countries. Achievement gaps remain evident even when comparing Arab and Jewish students from similar socioeconomic backgrounds.


All outcome indexes indicate that female Arab students fare significantly better than their male counterparts, unlike the situation in Hebrew education, and these gender gaps are maintained when examining the performance of individual sectors; Bedouin students (both male and female) are ranked as the weakest, and students in the Druze sector are the strongest. These achievement gaps stem from input gaps: teachers in Arab education have, in average, a lower skill set compared to teachers in Hebrew education. Some examples: an 80-point gap in the average psychometric test score between Arab and Jewish students in teaching colleges; just 22% of Arab teachers have digital skills at a medium or higher level, compared to 70% of (non-ultra-Orthodox) Jewish teachers; the Ministry of Education allocates lower funding for students in Arab education, in comparison to Hebrew education: most Arab students are positioned in the lower Nurture Index Quintiles, where the budget per student in Arab education is about two-thirds of the budget per student in Hebrew education; furthermore, the education budget of Arab local authorities, which tend to be weaker, is lower compared to the average in Jewish municipalities; and to top it all, the weaker socioeconomic background of students in Arab education leads to disparities in the educational investment among households.


In view of these results, Aaron Institute's researchers recommend setting outcome targets for the education system, along with corresponding input targets. Proposed outcome targets include improving student proficiency, with an emphasis on improving Hebrew fluency and raising eligibility rate for Hebrew matriculation to 90% by 2030, whereupon half of graduates would take expanded (5 point) matriculation; raising secondary school completion rate to 95% at least (similar to that of Hebrew education); and raising matriculation rate to 85% for girls and 75% for boys by 2030, with an emphasis on eligibility for high-quality matriculation. Input targets include improving the quality of teachers and teaching through programs which incentivize currently active teachers and principals, such as the YEHOLOT and TOVANOT initiatives, which facilitate rewards for goals achieved by means of raising appointment percentage and offering bonuses for meeting performance targets; and setting quality metrics for the professional development of teachers which would include improvement of teaching skills, also encompassing digital skills.


In the roundtable discussion we will present data on existing disparities between Arab and Hebrew education at different stages of the education system, in terms of both student performance and educational inputs, and propose objectives and policy recommendations for improving student performance and education quality in the Arab education system.