Rule Number 1 of Management 101….

Find someone who is doing it right. Then do what they do.

Japan as one of the top East Asian nation has consistently scored high in its testing. Even though test scores by themselves are not a great indicator of learning, they are somewhat of a guide, nevertheless. Someone who consistently gets higher scores without using one of Michele Rhee’s erasers, deserves inspection. The full report is here.

For decades Japan has remained at or near the top of international assessments of student learning. What makes Japanese schools successful?

“On the PISA questionnaires Japanese students reported the best disciplinary climate in their mathematics classes among in all other OECD countries. For example, 91% of Japanese students reported that students never or only in some classes don’t listen to what the teacher says (OECD average is 68%).”

“OECD countries allocate at least an equal, if not a larger, number of teachers per student to socio-economically disadvantaged schools as to advantaged schools; but disadvantaged schools tend to have great difficulty in attracting qualified teachers. By contrast, in Japan, the student-teacher ratio is 10 in disadvantaged schools and 13 in advantaged schools, meaning that there are more teachers per student in disadvantaged schools. (Delaware is at 22 students) In addition, the proportion of teachers with university-level qualifications does not substantially differ between advantaged and disadvantaged schools in Japan (it is 100% in advantaged schools and 99.8% in disadvantaged schools), and principals in disadvantaged schools reported the same extent of teacher shortage as principals in advantaged schools.”

“In Japan, there is no statistically significant difference between advantaged and disadvantaged schools in the amount of educational resources allocated, according to principals’ reports. However, advantaged schools tend to have better infrastructure and offer students more learning time than disadvantaged schools, as observed….”

“The proportion of Japanese students who attend after-class-tutoring by another venue is much larger than the OECD average: 70% compared to the OECD average of 38%. ”

“Also Some 99% of students in Japan reported that they had attended pre-primary education, and 97% reported that they had attended for more than one year (the OECD average is 74%). The proportions in Japan have not changed since 2003.”

“On average across OECD countries, the difference in socio-economic status and the difference in mathematics performance between those who had attended pre-primary education and those who hadn’t widened between 2004 and 2012, but Japan’s did not.”

Schools in Japan are given more discretion in establishing curricula and assessments than in most participating countries and economies. In Japan, 98% of students are in schools whose principals reported that only “principals and/or teachers”, have considerable responsibility for establishing student assessment polices (the OECD average is 47%); 90% are in schools that have the authority to decide which courses are offered (the OECD averag is 36%); and 89% are in schools that have responsibility for choosing which textbooks are used or for determining course content (the OECD averages are 65% and 40%, respectively) PISA also shows that schools with more autonomy tend to perform better than schools with less autonomy in systems with more accountability and/or collaboration among principals and teachers.”

PISA results show that grade repetition tends to be negatively related to equity and is a costly policy. No Japanese student reported that he or she had repeated a grade in either elementary, lower secondary, or secondary school. (The OCED average is 12%)

“Across participating countries and economies, a strong negative relationship is observed between the levels of students’ motivation and the degree to which systems sort and group students into different schools and/or programmes. In the systems that separate students into different schools more, students tend to report less instrumental motivation to learn mathematics.”

“PISA shows that high-performing and equitable school systems tend to engage students in school evaluations and teacher appraisals to improve teaching and learning. The degree to which systems seek feedback from students regarding lessons, teachers or resources tends to be related to the school systems’ level of equity. Systems where more students attend schools with such practices tend to show a lesser impact of socio-ecommomic factors upon performance.”


As is easily seen, achievement in education can beat the odds that socio-economic factors create.

The focus needs to be on human interaction. Not testing. Japan uses human interaction better than the US in two places… Classrooms have half the student ratios common in US schools, And significant numbers of students receive tutoring after school hours…

This concentration of human capital and expertise is the sole reason Japan has consistently done well across the 45 years this test has been given….

IF the United States were to follow suit, and go with the proposed 11:1 student teacher ratio the scores would improve. Instead of using private concerns to take away from from public school resources, the allocation of additional recourses aimed at after school instruction could be better utilized for greater results….

It appears that every dollar thrown on testing is ill spent. The US should abandon the tests that have drained resources and focus on building the levels of human interactions, particularly in lower income area schools.