Specialized Schools in Israel: A Critical Policy Analysis of the Past Three Decades


 Presenter (s) Orit Krubiner and Dr. Iris BenDavid-Hadar, Bar Ilan University
Title Specialized Schools in Israel: A Critical Policy Analysis of the Past Three Decades

Although Israel aspires for equity, its students’ academic achievement distribution is characterized by large gaps compared with other OECD countries (OECD, 2018) Moreover, there is an incremental trend of inequity. This large achievement gap is further challenged by the growing number of specialized schools in Israel. Specialized schools are characterized by hybrid financing (public and private), selective admission processes and supra-regional registration (Abrams, 2016; Bialik, 2011; Corcoran & Baker-Smith, 2015). This trend is a part of the process of decentralization and the quasi-market orientation, which stem from the growing influence of the neo-liberal worldview. This trend may hinder equity or equality of opportunity, yet, might reinforce choice.

The objective of this research is to analyze the educational policy regarding specialized schools in Israel, over the past three decade-1988-2018. To this end, a critical hermeneutics approach is used (Tsabar-Ben Yehoshua, 2016; Shkedi, 2014). Specifically, according to the Value-Critical Policy Analysis model proposed by Schmidt, and first formulated by Martin Rein (as quoted by Schmidt, 2006), policy documents are thematically analyzed, and semi-structured in-depth interviews are conducted with senior officials.
The research questions are as follows:

1. To what extent policy in the context of specialized schools promotes equity?
2. To what extent policy in this context promotes choice?
3. Which policy “actors” are dominant, and what are their “voices” in the dynamics of policy formulation?
4. To what extent the voices of the various “actors” composite in (dis)harmony?

The main findings reveal a complex picture of a central educational regime, whose hegemonic status has been eroded in the wake of political changes, and which has lost a significant portion of its organizational ability to initiate and enforce broad reforms. Furthermore, the fiscal constraints challenge the ability of the central government to pursue its educational policy therefore, an implied unofficial educational policy has emerged in Israel, whose intentions are vague but which – yielding to pressure from middle class parents, who became significant “actors” in the reformed policy arena – has enabled the establishment of specialized schools, one of whose salient features is their license to charge tuition fees.

As Klees (2008) argues, this situation creates inequity in the resources invested in children from stronger populations compared to weaker ones. Furthermore, he identifies this phenomenon in rich countries as well, where there are clearly destructive effects on the children who are neglected due to what Kozol (quoted by Klees, 2008) calls “savage inequalities”. One of the recommendations of the current study will address the formulation of open, institutional policy in all matters regarding the equity aspects in the allocation of resources and the budgeting of specialized schools, so that it will be possible to limit the part played by tuition fees while increasing public funding. There will also be a recommendation to strengthen public education and update the educational legislation.


Abrams, S.E. (2016). Education and the Commercial Mindset. Cambridge, Massachusett: Harvard University Press.
Bialik, G. (2011). The debate on educational policy in Israel as presented in the stories of the establishment of specialized schools, told by the principals who founded them. Ph.D. thesis, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv.
Corcoran, S., & Baker-Smith, C. (2015). Pathway to an Elite Education: Application, Admission, and Matriculation to New York City’s Specialized High Schools: Working Paper. New York University: The Research Alliance for New York City Schools, Institute for Education and Social Policy.
Tsabar-Ben Yehoshua, N. (2016). Second Chapter: Hermeneutics and hermeneutical research. In: Tsabar-Ben Yehoshua, N. (editor). Traditions and streams in qualitative research (pp. 66-85). Tel Aviv: Mofet Institute.
Shkedi, A. (2014). The meaning behind the words, methodologies in qualitative research – from theory to practice. Tel Aviv: Ramot, Tel Aviv University.
Klees, S.J. (2008). A quarter century of neoliberal thinking in education: misleading analyses and failed policies. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 6(4), 311-348. DOI: 10.1080/14767720802506672
OECD (2018). PISA: Programme for International Student Assessment. Retrieved from: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/
Schmidt, R. (2006). Value-critical policy analysis. In Yanow, D. & Schwartz-Shea, P. (Eds.), Interpretation and method (300-315). Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

Biographical note

Orit Krubiner has a master’s degree in education administration from Bar Ilan University. Over the course of 21 years starting in 1995, she served as a principal at three public elementary schools in the city of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel, two of them regional schools and the third, the School of the Arts, is defined as a specialized supra-regional (Magnet) school. Each of the schools that she directed served a population of students who came from families with a homogenous socioeconomic background, but which differed from school to school, ranging from a very disadvantaged population to a very well-off population.
For her work as a principal at these schools over the years, in September 2014 she was named Outstanding Educator in the Tel Aviv-Yafo district. From 2016 until the present, she has been serving as a CEO of an educational subsidiary of the Tel Aviv-jaffa municipality.

Dr. Iris BenDavid-Hadar is a faculty member at Bar Ilan University, Israel. Her research foci are Education Finance Policy, and Economics of Education. She is a member of the Board of Trusties (BOT) at the National Education Finance Academy (NEFA), USA. In addition, she is the founder and previous chair of the Economics and Finance of Education SIG in the Comparative International Education Society (CIES), USA, and a Member of the Board of the International Higher Education in Belt and Road Countries (IHE-B&R) at the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT), China. Her papers have been published in books and journals such as International Journal of Educational Development, Education Economics, and the Journal of Education Finance. Her book Education Finance, Equality, and Equity was recently published by Springer.

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