Dear Bill and Melinda,
One of our readers, a colleague, and friend — Katie Osgood commented on our blog. Katie is a special education teacher in Chicago. She responds to Beniko Mason’s (a teacher in Japan) letter, “A Reader From Japan Sounds the Alarm Bell”:
“I taught in Japan for many years. Their education system leaves much to be desired and there is much happening behind the headlines of high ranking test scores. Many Japanese high school students sleep through their high schools classes, knowing they will cover all the materials later at juku (cram school.) While US reformers point to the larger class sizes in Japan, it is important to note that the kids do NOT do much learning in their boring lecture style classes, but Japanese parents subsidize the learning by providing exceptionally small, sometimes 1:1 individualized learning at the cram schools.
Also, kids must test to get into any high school. The kids who test well go to “academic high schools” while the kids who struggle go to “technical” “commercial” or “agricultural” high schools to learn a trade and very few of these students go on to college. This creates highly homogeneous classrooms and Japanese teachers often do little, if any, differentiation.
Something that I have almost never heard talk about is the lack of special education services in most Japanese High Schools. There are entirely separate schools for children with severe/profound disabilities and then all other children are sorted through testing, and the poor test-takers do not receive special education services as we know them. ( The US is one of the few countries that attempts to give a free and appropriate education to all learners, regardless of ability, which is something to be celebrated.) Japanese struggling learners are often condemned to trade schools and not given expert specialized instruction (Most cram schools are staffed by college-aged tutors and the like, not certified teachers/specialists.) There is a lot of stigma around learning disabilities/mental health issues, and these issues are rarely addressed in Japanese schools. Families tend to deal with problems privately.
There were a few things I liked about the Japanese system such as the equitable funding systems, whether you went to a rural school in the mountains or a bustling city school, you’d get generally the same types of resources and access to fully-qualified teachers. Also, Japanese elementary schools (5th grade and lower) tended to be less test-prep and rigid and offered quality early learning experiences.
In the US we seem to have ignored the good in the Japanese education system and instead doubled-down on the bad, testing mania that even the Japanese acknowledge needs to change.”
— Katie Osgood, Special Education Teacher, Chicago
Why “double-down on the bad”, if you want our children to succeed, we wonder?
In Finland, Pasi Sahlberg offers another great example of global success — where children, teachers, unions, public schools, and communities are flourishing.
‘The solution, according to Sahlberg, is to focus on equity, not competition, and to ensure that all schools are excellent, well-resourced, and focus on the whole child. If all schools are excellent, there is no need to have publicly available ranking systems. The debate over school choice then becomes obsolete, as Andy Hargreaves said in Melbourne, because “the local school should be as good as any other school.” ‘
We find it interesting that actually reducing competition increases Finland’s global ranking. So why push archaic-industrial-factory-model -“market-based”-competitive-school-reform policies that have become epic failures, when you claim to have a purpose to compete globally? Or is there a different “set-up” by corporate reform at work?
Jeff Bryant notes this “set up” here:
“In fact, many public officials, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, expected large numbers of students to fail. And now, many of those same officials are trying to convince New Yorkers, and the rest of us, that purposefully failing students is a good thing.”
If you TRULY want children to succeed globally, why set them up to fail?
Clearly, all the evidence is against your reform policies. If you really want children in America to succeed, why not implement the BEST from global education policies, rather than the WORST? Is success for America’s children REALLY your goal, after all?
Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates