Comparison of the Educational Systems in the United States and Israel Today
Schools are unique in any society since they educate and mold the next generation who will then be in charge of how the world will shape up and how these schools will be run in the future. Educators in every country help shape the character and the morality of their students beyond the intellectual and physical instruction provided. An education today must prepare a person for the realities of life, including how to balance a checkbook, answer an employment ad, and how to comport oneself at a job interview. These fundamental skills are just part of a huge body of knowledge which includes everything about a given society and the world in which people live. This paper will provide an overview and comparison of the respective educational systems employed by the United States and Israel today, followed by a summary of the research in the conclusion.
Review and Discussion
Background and Overview. There can be no doubt that basic literacy and solid grounding in reading and writing skills are critical to academic performance and future success in higher education and continuing careers. The general effectiveness of the respective educational systems in the United States and Israel can therefore be considered in terms of the national literacy rates, with both nations achieving high levels of overall literacy. The overall literacy rate in the United States is 97% (United States 2003) compared with a slightly lower overall literacy rate of 95.4% in Israel today (Israel 2003). These percentages, though, do not reflect the fundamental differences involved in what is taught in these educational systems, nor do they suggest the underlying challenges that confront both educational systems today.
Educational System in the United States. Public schools in the U.S. are organized along traditional lines and operate under policies set by states and by district boards of education. These policies determine such matters as what subjects should be taught and what qualifications teachers need. The national system of formal education in the United States developed in the 19th century and differed from other educational systems in place in other Western societies in three fundamental ways. The first difference was that Americans were more inclined to regard education as a solution to various social problems. The second, because they had this confidence in the power of education, Americans provided more years of schooling for a larger percentage of the population than other countries. The third difference in the American system was that educational institutions were primarily governed by local authorities rather than by federal ones (Kozol 1991).
The American educational system today can be viewed as having remained substantially the same in form within while undergoing enormous pressures to change from without. From such experimental programs as the Dalton Plan, the Winnetka Plan, and the Gary Plan, and from the pioneering work of Francis W. Parker and notably John Dewey, which ushered in the "progressive education" of the 1920s and '30s, American schools, curricula, and teacher training have changed in favor of more flexible and cooperative methods (Devitas & Sola 1989). These new approaches have been pursued within a school seen as an overall learning community. The attempt to place the nature and experience of the child and the present life of the society at the center of school activity has been a primary focus of this approach. Most curriculum reforms in U.S. schools have attempted to accentuate academic basics, particularly mathematics, science, and language, as well as the "new basics," including computers. In addition, computers have become increasingly important in education not only as a field of study but also as reference and teaching aids.
As America continues to experience fundamental changes in its society as a result of shifts in population from urban to suburban environments, alternatives to traditional educational settings have been explored to help meet the challenges these changes create. Some alternatives being examined in the United States include charter schools, home schooling, computer-based Internet instruction, or a combination of these and other innovative approaches (Kaminsky 1993). Many advocates of home schooling feel this method provides all of the advantages of a traditional education without the disadvantages which characterize urban schools: violence, drugs, sexual promiscuity and a general erosion of the moral climate as a result of the loss of religious instruction and prayer in the classroom (Marsh & Willis 1999).
Educational System in Israel. While there are some similarities in the educational system in Israel with the U.S., there are some pronounced differences as well. On the one hand, the educational system in Israel is characterized by much of the same types of diversity in ethnicities that exist in American schools between ethnic groups. For instance, Arabs and Jews in Israel are non-assimilating groups that are divided along national, religious, linguistic, cultural, and social lines. Arabs living in Israel are full citizens of the state and are entitled to the formal legal and political rights given to Jews, under Israel's formal democratic system. Living in Israel, they have benefited from rapid modernization and rising living and educational standard; however, they have also been subject to a range of discriminatory public policies in the areas of education, welfare, and economic development. Consequently, the Arabs have recently increased their struggle for civil equality in Israel, led by the National Committee of Heads of Arab Local Councils (known as the National Committee) and several other voluntary movements, parties and organizations (Meir & Yiftachel 1998).
Like the United States, Israel maintains a number of different types of secular and religiously oriented private schools, ranging from the moderately secular to the highly religious that attract students based on largely religious preferences. For instance, Chorev schools are politically neutral and independent of all other institutions other than its own; by contrast, in Ephrat Schools, children are taught the entire range of Jewish religious thought. There are also Noam Schools that are characterized as "politically a bit to the right of the Chorev schools" by Yerushalaim (2003).
Other similarities exist between the Israeli educational system and its American counterpart. For example, the educational system in Israel has also received some criticism from the lower socioeconomic and ethnic minority Arab groups in suburban regions who point to the differences in curriculum provided. According to Meir and Yiftachel, the Israeli school system in these marginalized regions trains the sons and daughters of the town's residents so that these children can eventually replace their parents on low-paying assembly line jobs. The difficulties that adversely affect Arab education in Israel are exacerbated by the radical social changes this community has recently experienced. "Education is a basic prerequisite for the Bedouin's successful adaptation and economic integration into Israeli society. The Israeli educational system, however, which is based on the Western educational model, represents a new organization in Bedouin Arab society" (Meir & Yiftachel 1998:277). During the early phases of Israel's statehood, the schools introduced by the Israeli government were viewed by Arabs as being merely an intrusion that was irrelevant to their way of life; however, over time, people began to adapt to their new reality, they saw the importance of education, and began to demand educational services. In spite of these demands, it was not until the late 1960s that schools were widely established for them. In fact, it was not until 1969 that the first high school for the Bedouin in the Negev was opened. By the end of the 1970s, two more high schools had been constructed for the Negev Bedouin in government-planned settlements (Meir & Yiftachel 1998). However, Meir and Yiftachel point to enormous problems facing these schools, including staffing shortages and a paucity of facilities and equipment.
Finally, the administration of public schools in Israel is similar to…