Look to Japan for Better Schools?

Brent Staples:

The United States will become a second-rate economic power unless it can match the educational performance of its rivals abroad and get more of its students to achieve at the highest levels in math, science and literacy. Virtually every politician, business leader and educator understands this, yet the country has no national plan for reaching the goal. To make matters worse, Americans have remained openly hostile to the idea of importing strategies from the countries that are beating the pants off us in the educational arena.
The No Child Left Behind Act, passed four years ago, was supposed to put this problem on the national agenda. Instead, the country has gotten bogged down in a squabble about a part of the law that requires annual testing in the early grades to ensure that the states are closing the achievement gap. The testing debate heated up last month when national math and reading scores showed dismal performance across the board.
Lurking behind these test scores, however, are two profoundly important and closely intertwined topics that the United States has yet to even approach: how teachers are trained and how they teach what they teach. These issues get a great deal of attention in high-performing systems abroad – especially in Japan, which stands light years ahead of us in international comparisons.

The book has spawned growing interest in the Japanese teacher-development strategy in which teachers work cooperatively and intensively to improve their methods. This process, known as “lesson study,” allows teachers to revise and refine lessons that are then shared with others, sometimes through video and sometimes at conventions. In addition to helping novices, this system builds a publicly accessible body of knowledge about what works in the classroom

One thought on “Look to Japan for Better Schools?”

  1. As a teacher, I love the fact that teachers actually share entire lessons plans down to the detail in terms of what works and what doesn’t in any given unit (in Japan). Teacher training and in-service collegial study groups are very good. We could learn a lot in teacher development! (especially since teachers are not expected to pay for their own ongoing development classes)
    What I do not like (as a teacher or a parent) is the rampant stress and illness due to excessive standardized assessment and the incredibly high value given those assessments for determining who can go on in school, who cannot, who might be able to go to which universities, etc. There are a few universities out of the entire system, for example, that are considered really good. You have to have virtually perfect scores in all areas to get into those universities. If you fail to ace even one area, you are “stuck” with a “bad” school, if you even decide to go ahead and go at that point (these schools do not generally seem “bad” to most Americans’ eyes, especially considering how much we pay for higher education here at even most state schools). This is my understanding anyway, from talking with teachers and college students from Japan. Kids get ulcers, become seriously ill in other ways, or even kill themselves, based on how they think they did (before they even ave results sometimes) on these exams from middle school to high school and high school to college. That is just messed up. This happens sometimes in the US at the most selective private schools, but not so universally as it does in Japan.

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