I read an interesting article this morning on Israeli schools. Facing extreme poverty among Arab-Israeli’s and the ultra-orthodox, Israel struggles to maintain three separate school systems and succeed. It reminded me of some interesting centralized policy reforms in Israel that have led to great natural experiments. For example, so-called Maimonides Laws which capped class sizes at 40, allowed for some really interesting regression-discontinuity studies on the impact of class size 1.
What I found most interesting in this article, however, was the point made by Jon Medved:
While agreeing Israeli schools need to raise their standards, technology entrepreneur Jon Medved doesn’t think Israel’s test scores tell the whole story. He says informal education, through the military, youth movements, and extracurricular activities, builds skills. He also praised programs for gifted children.
Consequently, Medved says he isn’t worried that Israel’s tech-driven economy will slide because of deficiencies in the school system.
“While I think it’s important to sound alarm signals, I haven’t heard from tech companies … ‘the employees we’re getting are not educated,‘” Medved said.
Two thoughts came to mind. First, we certainly are hearing in the United States that employers are unhappy with the caliber of candidates for open positions. It’s unclear that in the US this is a result of low aggregate skills or just tremendous mismatch between the skills that are attained and the skills that are now valued in the marketplace. Second, Israel’s universal military service provides several additional years of intense training and skill attainment even before college. Considering the broad range of roles one can take on in the state military ((For example, social workers in Israel are basically military trained, given job experience, and then set out without a need for 5 years of schooling, although I believe many do receive at least a bachelor’s)), it’s hard not to see Israel’s mandatory service as a massive vocational educational program.
I don’t have much analysis here, but mandatory public/civil service is an interesting concept that this article will keep me thinking about over the weekend.
Angrist has also done several other studies in Israel with Lavy, a nice little summary of which is available here http://www.nber.org/reporter/summer03/angrist.html