In 2007, the then-leader of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu, together with his loyal aide Naftali Bennett, brandished a seminal study by the McKinsey & Company consulting firm on outstanding education systems worldwide in order to attack the Olmert government’s education policy. They promised that, if they obtained power, they would implement the report’s recommendations and dramatically improve the management of Israel’s school system.
Since 2007, many things have indeed changed in the management of Israel’s education system. The state took the McKinsey report’s insights to heart, along with the ongoing failure of Israeli students in the international PISA exams, and implemented two huge reforms of the school system. The education budget was almost doubled; currently at 50 billion shekels ($13.2 billion), it is second only to the defense budget. The people heading the education system have also changed: Netanyahu has served as prime minister since 2009, while Bennett has served as education minister for the past two years.
But the education system’s performance? That hasn’t improved at all. The results of the 2015 PISA exam show that Israel is still failing the exam, just as it did in 2007. Its students are ranked only 40th in the world, far below the average for developed countries. Moreover, Israel is in third place worldwide in terms of the size of the gaps between various sectors of the population. The tens of billions of extra shekels given the school system bore no fruit, and neither did the two administrative reforms.
Thus there’s no choice but to conclude, just as the McKinsey report said, that more money alone isn’t enough to make the education system succeed; it’s also necessary to improve its management. The zeal with which Netanyahu, as opposition leader in 2007, argued in favor of adopting the McKinsey report melted away when he obtained the reins of power. During his seven straight years as prime minister, Netanyahu has said almost nothing about education, nor has he put this systemic failure at the top of the country’s priorities.
Blaming the incumbent education minister – in this case, Bennett – doesn’t absolve the prime minister. Netanyahu has an obligation to delve deep into the school system’s administration and make dramatic decisions about the changes it requires. Otherwise, in stark contrast to his well-publicized promise, Israel will never manage to be one of the top 15 countries in the world.