Tuesday, July 19, 2011

More of the Same

While at a conference I had an opportunity to speak with an elementary educator who had just returned from teaching in Japan. I was fascinated by his experience and curious about the Japanese education system. There is a lot of rhetoric currently occurring around how to improve the American education system and in particular striving to be like Asian or European education systems. I found what this young educator had to say fascinating.

Let's first clarify a common misconception. This is a common remark made when the comparison of test scores comes up, "Of course they are out-achieving us academically. We have to teach all children and they don't. They don't include the text scores of their students with special needs." Based on this young educator's experience, YES. All children are educated in Japan.

This clarification lead to how the Japanese education system is set up. My understanding was the following.

Japanese schools are rated. They are rated based upon which future institution their students attend. In America this would mean that high schools would be rated higher for their students attending ivy league schools like Yale than they would if their students attended a community college. High schools are not the only educational institutions rated. Middle level schools are rated based upon the high schools their students attend and elementary schools are rated on the middle level schools their students attend.

Japanese students partake in exit exams. When leaving any school to move onto the next one, the children take a test. This test determines which school they will go to. What this means for say a middle school child is this. A middle school child does exceptionally well on the test and because of this then attends the high school that is top rated. In other words, goes to the high school that will get them into Yale. The same is true form the elementary child who tests well. They will attend the middle school that will get them into the high school that will get them into Yale. Which means the reverse is also true.

Sound familiar? It should. Because it's exactly what happens in the United States. High schools, private and public, publicize which colleges their students have been accepted to. And so they are ranked as a top achieving school because of this (or standardized test scores). Poverty stricken schools are often ranked as low achieving and this is in large part due to their students not passing the standardized tests, graduation rates, and college attendance.

Here's my question. If our education system is already like the Japanese education system why are we striving to mimic it? Particularly since it's apparently not working for us. Instead of chasing a dream that we are already living why aren't we looking to do something completely different instead of more of the same?

Sound slightly familiar? It should because our education system is similar.