November 17, 2018

Educating the educators, here and abroad

A recent roundtable discussion between local and Israeli educators has kindled a desire on both sides to collaborate in an effort to tackle issues of universal significance. 

“We learned that Israel is struggling with some of the same sorts of challenges we are here in the United States, and they’re looking at ways to assess their students … ” said Ben Allen, former president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education and candidate for California State senate. 

“They’re looking at how and when they examine kids. They’re looking at questions of violence in schools and disparity in schools. The more we can learn from each other, the better.”

The March 3 event at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles included an Israeli delegation of 10 with representatives from the government, foundations and non-governmental organizations. Approximately 20 Los Angeles educators from public schools, Jewish day schools, educational organizations and The Federation participated.  

Immediately following the discussions, several delegates declared their wish to continue a partnership, particularly on issues such as providing meaningful learning experiences to students and confronting educational inequality stemming from students’ different backgrounds and economic statuses. 

Jewish investor and philanthropist Gary Jacobs arranged for the Israeli educators to come to Southern California with the purpose of pointing out how they can incorporate cutting-edge pedagogies into their own education reforms. Jacobs’ Israeli representative, Tamar Kedar Harris, accompanied the Israeli delegation on its seven-day tour to the Federation’s Goldsmith Center, High Tech High in San Diego (which Jacobs helped found in 2000), the Da Vinci Schools in Hawthorne and New Village Charter High School in Los Angeles.  

Harris said cooperation is particularly valuable for Israel because the country is examining how it should restructure its education system over the next decade to provide more meaningful and in-depth learning opportunities for students. 

Harris said her and Jacobs’ intention was to start a dialogue between Israel and Southern California about education so they can learn from each other by comparing their cultures. Even she was surprised, though, at how illuminating the discussions were at the Federation roundtables. 

“Listening to the locals, The Federation and the people here [is] like receiving a mirror in your face in terms of what [Israel is] doing and what [Israel] is trying to do. You realize a lot of the challenges are international,” she said.

Daniel Gold, who directs Federation’s education and Israel advocacy campaigns, helped Harris organize the discussion panel and roundtable. Later, he wrote to the Journal that, while nothing is scheduled yet to reconnect these Israelis and Angelenos, his objective was to simply start a relationship of “commonalities” between them.  

At the roundtables, the Angelenos split up and rotated among the three groups of representatives from Israel. This followed presentations by Judith Kadesh, director of the Israeli ministry of education’s elementary school division, and Eyal Ram of the Institute for Democratic Education, about Israel’s upcoming education reforms that will require fewer matriculation exams to complete high school and more service learning.   

A discussion with managers of Israeli foundations brought to light how educational problems in both nations are entwined in socioeconomic disparity. When Allen explained that an American student’s success is often determined by his affluence or poverty, Harris replied that Israel also struggles with this conundrum. But the Angelenos said the United States is already several generations ahead of Israel in the widening gap between wealthier and poorer students; Israel can use its example so as not to make the same mistakes.

The Los Angeles group also referred directors of Israel’s education system to the Common Core State Standards in the United States because, they reasoned, it paralleled Israel’s objective to reform its education system. The Common Core is a national education initiative that sets a curriculum for what a student should know in various disciplines. 

Kadesh praised the roundtables for delving into the “core” of education.