Over the last ten years, several Haredi (Ultra-orthodox) schools for female-students have switched from internal matriculation exams to external state matriculation. Previously, students studied mathematics at a three-unit level and some sat equivalency examinations through the Szold Institute. Around five years ago, as part of the increased demand to study software engineering, 50 schools began to allow their students to study four-unit matriculation exams. These students are considered by the Haredi community as having better potential for employment (and consequently marriage).
Last year, the Ministry of Education established a ‘Haredi Educational District,’ which oversees Haredi schools willing to accept government standards and supervision in exchange for increased budgetary funding. The District, which today encompasses 120 high schools for female students and 50 for male students, is beginning to encourage the opening of five-unit classes. It believes that if the most able students can study the five-unit level, teachers will be able to better respond to the needs of four-unit students and thereby reduce dropout rates, and improve overall achievement.
Concurrently, in the current school year, 44 female students from eleven Haredi schools have joined the Virtual High School and 14 schools have joined the national ‘Mathematics First’ program. The district has appointed a designated instructor for five-unit mathematics, and is encouraging a number of Haredi teachers to begin teaching five-unit mathematics to 10th graders. These teachers have no experience at the five-unit level, and therefore are experiencing difficulties in teaching, which are expected to grow significantly next year as the 5-unit curriculum and the level in 11th grade is significantly harder than the 4-unit level.
For these teachers to succeed in their task, they will require support and careful instructional coaching. They will need to deepen their mathematical understanding and sharpen their pedagogical abilities. They will also need to learn the soft skills to encourage students to grapple with solving complex problems.
Addressing this need, the Haredi District, in collaboration with the Israel Center for Excellence through Education, is proposing the gradual development of a professional infrastructure to support the teaching of five-unit mathematics at Haredi schools. The Israel Center for Excellence through Education is a long-time partner of the Trump Foundation in a series of professional development and coaching programs for new teachers of mathematics and physics. The Center has the relevant experience in developing instructional materials and training models; in coaching and supporting teachers in the field; and has experience working with Haredi target audiences.
They are jointly proposing a three-year program in which participating teachers will receive close professional coaching from the Center, consisting of twice-weekly meetings and full availability from the Center staff. In the program’s first year, five 10th grade teachers who are teaching five-unit mathematics for the first time will receive coaching. The Center will assist them with difficulties they encounter while teaching and with the preparation of instructional materials. In parallel, there will be a 30-hour professional development course focusing on mathematical content for an additional 25 teachers from Jerusalem and Bnei-Brak. The course will address educational materials in-depth, identify common problems, and develop soft skills for enhancing student motivation. Supporting materials will be developed for these seminars and adapted specifically to the Haredi sector (without internet use), including teaching guides, lesson planning methodologies and instructional tools.
To expand their support network, the center will train eight Haredi teachers, already experienced in teaching five-unit mathematics (but who do not teach at Haredi schools), to serve as instructional coaches. Within three years, these eight coaches will provide close support for the 30 teachers in 10th – 12th grades.