Educational Inequality in Israel: from Cradle to University

Date: November 20, 2017

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Watch the conference, including all sessions and keynote lectures, on our Youtube channel

The Center’s Herbert M. Singer Annual Policy Conference of 2017 brought together great minds from Israel and the United States to address core, at times provocative, questions related to educational inequality throughout the life of a student, and to examine cutting-edge developments in the field that may help reduce the gaps.

The conference opened with a warm welcome and remarks from Taub Center Executive Director Prof. Avi Weiss, Taub Center Council Member Anat Gafni, and Jay H. Sandak, President of the Herbert and Nell Singer Foundation and a close friend of the Taub Center – who was joined at the conference this year by his son, Stephen Sandak.

The first session, Education and Inequality, was chaired by Prof. Yuli Tamir, President of Shenkar College and Former Minister of Education, and featured Prof. Noah Lewin-Epstein of Tel Aviv University ( Her presentation in Hebrew can be found here) and Taub Center Principal Researcher Nachum Blass (For his presentation click here). The speakers each offered their perspectives on how to address inequality in the education system and presented important trends that helped frame the topics of the day. Parental background was noted as an important predictor of educational success, and policy options, such as differential budgets that prioritize students from weak socioeconomic backgrounds, were put on the table.

The conference transitioned to its first keynote lecture, delivered by Prof. Dalton Conley of Princeton University. Conley presented his research on of the relationship between genetics, educational success, and social mobility, but noted that genetics is not everything. He concluded his presentation by noting that as technology makes individuals’ genetic information more readily available (particularly to wealthier strata in society), it is incumbent upon policy makers to take an active role in the debates already at hand and consider the policy implications on the role that  that genomics can play in society.

The second session focused on vocational education and was chaired by Member of Knesset Yossi Yona (Zionist Union). MK Yona was joined on stage by Prof. Yossi Shavit, Chair of the Center’s Education Policy Program (His presentation, in Hebrew, can be found here), Elad de-Malach from Bank of Israel (His presentation, in Hebrew, can be found here) and Shirin Natour Hafi, Principal of the Arab School ORT Vocational High School in Lod. Ms. Natour Hafi discussed her priorities as principal, noting that the common remedy of longer school hours is not enough to motivate students to succeed; pupils need their physical space to reflect the seriousness and professionalism of their expected educational performance.

As the conference moved into the third session, President of Hadassah Academic College Prof. Bertold Fridlender chaired a panel on higher education. The panellists, Prof. Sigal Alon from Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yariv Feniger of Ben Gurion University, looked at social stratification in university and the efficacy of affirmative action in reducing performance gaps.

The second keynote lecture of the day by Nobel Laureate Prof. James Heckman (and member of the Taub Center International Advisory Council) opened with an introduction by Prof. Avi Weiss and former Member of Knesset Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg. In his talk entitled The Connection Between Poverty, Stress and Development in Early Childhood, Prof. Heckman showed that the achievement gaps that we see at age 18 already exist in preschool, and a key question is when and how to intervene. “If we start at age 20, the most efficient method [of ensuring success] is probably to invest in the most motivated and competent individuals, but if we invest today in the base capabilities of disadvantaged young children, the return on investment will be huge,” he argued. For his full presentation click here

The final session, chaired by Prof. Yossi Shavit, featured an analysis of policy implications by Carmel Blank of Tel Aviv University, Taub Center Principal Researcher Nachum Blass, Daniella Ben-Attar of the Bernard Van Leer Foundation (Here presentation can be found here) , and Meir Kraus, Former Director of the Jerusalem Education Administration. The policy interventions discussed by the panellists and audience members ranged from parental training at the municipal level to a national overhaul of current budgeting standards.

The Center’s 2017 international conference was a huge success, bringing together the leaders of their fields to address this core social policy issue before a record-breaking audience of over 200 engaged participants. We thank all of the speakers and attendees of the conference and look forward to continued dialogue surrounding this important policy area.