Making Teaching Better: It's Not About Japan, Or Even "Lesson Study"

The headline of today's column by Brent Staples in the NYT misleadingly indicates that Staples is merely suggesting -- as many have in the past -- that the US adopt "Japanese" educational methods in order to improve our schools: Why the United States Should Look to Japan for Better Schools.

Forget the distracting comparisons to Japan's education system, and even Staples' recommendation that more teachers participate in "lesson study"(where teachers work together, examining lessons and student work in order to improve their practice). They're not really the point.

The real core of the piece is his observations that NCLB has not really proven sufficient to get educators and elected officials to improve teacher preparation and training as well as it was hoped, and that too few ed schools and districts are trying innovative strategies to improve classroom instruction.

Indeed, many are stuck in their academic ways, determined to ride out the standards wave and the effort to raise expectations -- and performance.

"No Child Left Behind was based on the premise that embarrassing test scores and government sanctions would simply force schools to improve educational outcomes for all students," writes Staples. "What has become clear, however, is that school systems and colleges of education have no idea how to generate changes in teaching that would allow students to learn more effectively."

How to get from here to there is a question Staples doesn't answer. Some states and ed schools are making progress on their own, and the USDE is giving out grants to help ease the path. But my guess is that it's going to take more than that to make real changes happen:

-- Districts taking a much stronger role in teacher preparation (which they essentially purchase from universities) is one approach being tried in Boston and some other places with some success.

-- Expanding the use of alt cert training programs to supply classroom teachers is another interesting route that some districts have already half-embraced. Roughly a third of the new teachers in Chicago come from alt cert programs. What if the district allowed TFA to credential and certify teachers, not just train them?

-- States allowing districts and even outside providers to take over all or part of teacher prep is another possible avenue that we may soon see, a la charter schools of education and NCBL-style teacher preparation "vendors."

Background Reading:
Lesson Study Research Group Home Page Teachers College

Recent Posts:
Ed School Innovations: School of NCLB
Does District-Run Teacher Prep Make a Difference?
Focusing On Teacher Quality Should Follow NAEP Results
Don't Leave the Teachers Out