Darca is a new school network, established in 2010 by the Rashi Foundation in partnership with Alliance and the Youth Renewal Fund. This academic year the network has 23 secondary schools in the periphery of Israel, attended by more than 12,000 students. Only 11% of its matriculating graduates complete 5 units of mathematics, and 10% of physics, in comparison to a national average of approximately 18% of matriculating graduates.The network explains that the current situation is primarily due to a lack of awareness in schools around establishing strong tracks, the low attraction of mathematics and science for students, and shortage of qualified teachers. They point to the fact that their focus during the first years of operation was aimed at quantity, rather than quality, as they targeted elevating graduation rates of students with a matriculation diploma from 53% to 85%. Only now they claim to be prepared to tackle the goal of advancing more students to the higher levels in mathematics and physics.
In discussion with the foundation, the network proposes to lead an integrated, coherent process, which will aim to raise the rate of students graduating 5-unit mathematics and physics matriculation. The intervention program they propose will operate in 15 schools which currently have the capacity for teaching advanced level mathematics and science matriculation. Each school will establish a community of practice, which will provide teachers with tools for clinical teaching, to be led by a group of 15 master teachers who will function as instructional coaches.
The schools will be expected to formulate a work plan to achieve the goal of the program in alignment with their starting point and specific needs and capabilities. The program will include establishing learning communities of practice for mathematics and physics teachers, and the teachers of the five unit tracks will also participate in a virtual community of teachers from all across the network. The network will allocate a special budget for each school to cover the additional equipment and teaching hours required.
The school-based teacher communities will use a model which was designed by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. It contains a strict and structured protocol for holding teachers community meetings, focusing on discussion of teaching and learning artifacts from classrooms, observing practice and providing a critical, yet friendly feedback. Darca intends to send two of its master teachers and the project leader to learn the model in Indiana and to translate relevant material to Hebrew. Upon their return, these two master teachers will train and coach the school department heads on how to create and operate teacher communities in their schools.
In addition, the Weizmann Institute and the University of Haifa will be approached to create physics and mathematics professional communities for the 5-unit teachers. They will train Darca master teachers to be able to lead these communities by themselves within three years. These communities, as well as the school-based communities, will use diagnostic assessments and classroom-based videos via collaboration with other programs which are supported by the foundation.
* The text above shows the grant as approved by the Foundation’s Board of Directors / Grant 152