In Israel, the state provides education, which is compulsory from age 5-15 and tuition-free through grade 12. In August 1949, a year after the establishment of the state, the Knesset passed the Compulsory Education Law, which states that "the government is responsible for providing free, compulsory education" for children aged 5-13; in 1968 the age of compulsory education was extended to 15, and in 1978, the age of free education was extended to 17.
Elementary education, as well as a good part of high school education, is public. Through the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, the government accredits schools, determines curriculum, certifies teachers and supervises their work, awards diplomas, and finances most of the expenses of education. Local governments are responsible for setting up and maintaining educational facilities; their funding comes from local taxes and from transfers from the Ministry.
While the government is by far the largest supplier of educational services, not all sectors of the population receive the same quality service; there are considerable disparities in the educational achievements of the direct consumers of these services -- the schoolchildren.
Despite the universalistic spirit of the Compulsory Education Law, the Israeli educational system is characterized by a high degree of internal differentiation. One dividing line was drawn by the State Education Law (1953), which acknowledged three types of Jewish schools: secular ("public") schools, religious ("religious public") schools, and Orthodox parochial schools ("private education"). The law granted each a separate administrative apparatus, thus perpetuating the divisions prevailing during the British Mandatory Government. A second line of demarcation is between Jewish and Arab schools. This separation is not a legislated one, but rather reflects a decision to preserve the divisions that existed during the Mandate period; prior to the establishment of the state of Israel, the majority of Arab schoolchildren studied in schools set up by the the British Mandatory Government, and the Jews studied in a private system administered by the Educational Committee of the National Assembly, the self-governing body of the pre-state Jewish community in Palestine. A third principle of division within Jewish schools, one that traverses all three sub-systems, is that between "regular" pupils, most of whom are Ashkenazim, and pupils defined as "in need of special...