Petach Tikva is a large city in the Central District of Israel, with one of Israel’s fastest growing populations, numbering approximately 225,000 residents, with 40% national Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox. About 14,500 students attend secondary education in the city (2,400 per year group). There are eight high schools in the secular system (of which 6 have five-unit matriculation mathematics tracks) and 8 religious schools (of which 3 have five-unit mathematics matriculation tracks).
To date, the city has taken initial steps to improve mathematics and science achievement. All schools participate in the government’s ‘technological scientific reserve’ program, in addition to a number of supplementary programs that provide volunteer teaching assistance for the teacher in class (Shiur BeYachad). As a result, there has been a slight increase in the number of students choosing five units, reaching 11% of the city’s graduates in 2014. In 2015, however, as a consequence of the national “mathematics first” program, the city identified an emerging interest as many students moved from the four-unit track to five units.
The municipality now wishes to capitalize on this growing trend and support it with a solid professional infrastructure. A needs assessment report and a survey among teachers and principals revealed the following challenges:
- Many students who are potentially able to study the five-unit track are ill prepared in junior high school and are not sufficiently motivated to select a mathematics major in high school. This is a highly sensitive interface since this is when students select their matriculation tracks, and mathematics is an intimidating subject for many students.
- Teachers find it difficult to cope with students who are struggling in the five-unit track and require clinical teaching tools to keep the students from dropping down.
- There is a shortage of five-unit teachers, while the experienced four-unit teachers report a lack of appropriate professional training for teaching advanced levels.
Addressing these issues, and in line with the national goals, Petach Tikva municipal leadership has decided to set itself the goal of increasing 5-unit mathematics graduates to 20% of the city’s high school students (450 students) by 2019. To do so, they plan to decrease drop-down rates from 5-unit mathematics from 15% to 5%. In addition, they aim to train at least additional 18 teachers to teach 5-unit mathematics to join the current cadre of 30 teachers.
In order to achieve these ambitious goals, they are proposing a three-year comprehensive city-wide program, for which they have already recruited a municipal program director, Bracha Moskovitch, a former high school vice-principal, who will work alongside one of the city’s leading mathematics teachers, to coordinate and integrate the program across the board. The program will include the following elements:
- Establishing two citywide communities of practice for the high school and junior high school teachers. Two teachers from each school will participate in the community, which will be led by an academic institution;
- Creating school-based communities in each school (led by the two teachers who participate in the citywide communities), organizing school staff to support the drive to increase the scope of advanced-level mathematics, and to coach new mathematics teachers in school;
- Organizing special joint courses for 8th-10th grade teachers focusing on the transition from junior high to high school, with an emphasis on improving the coordination of curriculum and the level of teaching between them;
- Executing instructional coaching for new teachers by experienced teachers who participate in the citywide communities;
- Providing additional teaching hours and supplementary teaching for students, including opening an after-school learning center for students, and activity with local hi-tech and industry to increase motivation for 5-unit mathematics.
The municipality has also expressed interest in cultivating and improving 5-unit physics studies in the city and will consider how the mathematics program could potentially be expanded to include physics teachers. To this effect, they will establish a physics community and professional development course for physics teachers from the second year of the program.
* The text above shows the grant as approved by the Foundation’s Board of Directors/ Grant 218