Published in the Jerusalem Post By AKIVA HERZFELD JANUARY 18, 2020 20 For the full article click here

Where will you send your child to school next year? Now is the time when parents of Israeli children entering first grade, or of older children entering middle school, need to pick a school for their kids. The deadline for picking an elementary school in many cities in Israel is January 27.
You may have a choice between a school that gets high scores from the Education Ministry and another school in your area that is a government school that may not seem as exciting. As a good parent, you may be stressed about this and fighting to stick your child into that “elite” school.

I’m writing to tell you to relax. That “elite” school might not actually be the best school for your child. Your child may very well have more room to develop emotionally and intellectually in the government public school that admits all students rather than in the exclusive school that filters out students based on whatever elite criteria it has.

The Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avoda organization tells parents that when you want to find a school for your child, first listen to the principal and ask whether he or she shares an outlook on education that resonates with you. Look at the teachers and see if they are excited about their school and whether they are forming meaningful relationships with students.
Second, and just as important, our organization stresses that parents should consider the school’s diversity and its framework of education.
We live in a country with Jews who came here from all over the world. An ethnically diverse school fosters a dynamic learning environment for its students. A school should also have socioeconomic diversity in its student body.
These are not just nice ideas. Some private schools in Israel turn away students with special learning needs, believing that these students don’t fit the mold. However, Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avoda believes that this engagement of students encountering the other will be very fruitful for your child’s emotional growth and make your son or daughter more caring and intelligent.

Exposure to diversity will help your child appreciate the different gifts and needs of the people in the world around them. Especially if one of your children does not fit the mold, your children will likely gain tremendously by being in the more open learning environment.
The religious public school system in Israel is known as the “Mamad,” or mamlachti-dati, system. These are government-supported religious schools that welcome students from all sectors of the population and emphasize that an open school can best create stronger students and foster a stronger society as well. We encourage parents to send their children to the Mamad.
SOME RELIGIOUS Anglo immigrants pay more money to send their kids to a private school (i.e. not a Mamad) based on its selling point of a better education, or better Torah, at that school. Don’t be easily convinced. Sometimes, (shocking to believe!) the school that advertises itself as a “Torah” institution doesn’t even have a class for students with special learning needs. Generally speaking, a Mamad school provides a more secure and stronger education for your child.

The Mamad school may have less bullying, because students realize that there are obvious differences in the student body population. Results from the Meitzav, which are statistics compiled by the Education Ministry based on student responses to questions, often show that students in the Mamad schools report that they feel safer than in the schools outside of the government system.
Another objective indicator of a school’s priorities in education is its ma’arechet sha’ot, or the schedule of hours and general framework. A close examination of the ma’arechet sha’ot should reveal how much time in the week is devoted to different subjects, such as Torah, math, science and English.
The schedule needs to be looked at closely because sometimes a school may list more Torah hours, for example, but that only means that a teacher is spending more hours on frontal class-time teaching, and less hours meeting with students in small groups. A school outside of the government system may also be hiring teachers without an education degree, and your child’s education may suffer because of that.
With regard to school rankings on test scores, don’t be too impressed by a school in Israel that publicizes the high marks of its students on tests as its selling point. A school that takes in all students from the population may not have the same overall high marks in test-score rankings, but your child may very well have more room to excel academically in the public school than in the filter school.
As we consider schools for our children, the best option for your child may be the familiar public option, the Mamad. The Mamad may have the most resources available to it, and may be best suited to educate your child according to his or her needs. As it says in the Book of Proverbs: “Educate each child according to his or her way.”

The writer works on English-language projects at Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avoda.