Yesterday’s local elections have decided the makeup of the mayors and city councils for the next five years. I can’t say that I was surprised at the results of our elections — our mayor (whom I voted for) was re-elected for another term of office by beating out his opponents by almost 2 to 1.
The mayor is a young man, bright, articulate and quite Internet savvy (when I visited his chief opponent’s headquarters, there wasn’t a computer terminal in sight — these people believe in conducting elections as their grandfathers did, by calling each voter to get out the vote). He campaigned on his record, which is pretty solid. He also puts a lot of emphasis into improving the local school system and that resonates with a lot of locals.
Four of my children have gone through the school system in Tzfat and my youngest is making her way through high school. We not talking Ivy League here but there is definitely a par between the scholastic accomplishments of kids in development towns like Tzfat and high-achieving schools in the center of the country. The statistics show that fewer kids from development towns achieve their matriculation certificates, go on to high profile army units, go on to higher learning and achieve advanced degrees.
Our mayor has put a lot of emphasis on increasing the numbers of local kids who complete their matriculation exams — he replaced “ineffective” administrators and has put a lot of pressure on the teaching staffs of the various high schools to demonstrate that the students have mastered the material necessary for them to continue on to higher learning and other life achievements.
I understand his direction but I’m not sure that the methodology is correct. It seems to me that there are better ways to improve a school’s performance than to terrorize the staff. I recently heard about a successful program in the States that is making a significant impact on the test scores of participating schools.
The TAP program — Teacher and Student Advancement — was created to encourage teachers and administrators to work together to advance the teaching, in-school communication, inter-staff relationships and student performance in schools throughout the country. The program aims to make fundamental changes in the way that teachers see their job and in their interactions with their colleagues.
TAP is the brainchild of education reformer Lowell Milken who developed the program and now oversees the system’s implementation. TAP pushes the envelope in creating tools that allow schools and their staff members to develop teaching skills in a positive atmosphere of mutual cooperation.
TAP is overseen and supported by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET). It was designed to be a comprehensive school reform system which provides powerful opportunities for teachers to grow professionally and advance in their own careers. The program’s main goals include instructionally focused accountability and competitive compensation.
TAP creates a framework encourages teachers to successfully develop and nurture each individual student’s knowledge, skills and experiences and to cultivate the potential of each student — key elements that enable students to succeed academically before moving into the real world of further study and work.
TAP schools build a community of teachers, administrators and other education professionals who unite in their effort to create a positive learning environment for both the students and the school staff. TAP funds are allocated to a school when the administration commits to reward successful teachers with career advancement and bonuses, develop teacher-peer mentoring programs and provide team planning sessions for teachers so that effective educators can share their talents and knowledge with their colleagues.
The evaluation of a school’s success is accomplished by standardized testing, just as our students are tested today.
In reviewing the program, I see no reason that such a process couldn’t be implemented in Israel. The cost would be negligible and the benefits could be significant. I see with my own children that test scores are only the tip of the iceberg — schools have to be changed to create an environment which is conducive to learning and which show the students the value of succeeding and continuing on to future work and academic achievements.