Action 48. Scrap Boards of Education, Give Principals More Authority, and Reform University Entrance Examinations

With the aim of receiving the best higher education in the world, each year 700,000 students from around the world go to the U.S. to study. But even in the U.S., education reform has been regarded the top priority for the government. The principle of competition has been introduced at public schools, and poor performing schools are closed down. In addition, teachers with low levels of ability are dismissed and schools are allowed to offer attractive packages to top-flight teaching personnel. If the world’s leading education country is enthusiastically reforming its education system, then Japan’s education reforms will need to go even further.
1. For University Entrance Examinations, Introduce Tests That are held on Several Occasions and Introduce Interviews to Measure the Candidate’s Growth as a Total Person
The root cause of the fact that education doesn’t change is the method of university entrance examinations. Unless this is changed, education at elementary, middle, and high schools will not change. This is because admission to the top universities is determined solely according to whether the candidate passes or fails a written examination, and the number of successful candidates determines the reputation of each middle school and high school. To ensure success, children attend cram schools, called juku, from elementary school in order to pass the written examinations.
In countries such as the U.S. and the U.K., students take common tests, which are held several times a year, to enter university. In the U.S., there are two such tests, the SAT and the ACT. The SAT can be taken seven times per year, while the ACT can be taken six times. In addition to the results of the common tests, tough-to-enter private universities such as Harvard also take into account letters of recommendation, essays, interviews, and so on, when deciding which students to admit.
Japan should also introduce tests that can be taken several times. In addition, to assess not only candidate’s knowledge, but also their energy, ambition, communication skills, and presentation skills, the number of university entrance examiners should be increased and letters of recommendation, essays, interviews, and so on should be introduced.
2. Scrap Boards of Education and Increase the Responsibilities and Roles of the National Government and Local Governments
In Japan, where responsibility for elementary and middle school education resides is vague. A handicap in school management is the presence of boards of education. It is surely going too far to give boards of education, whose members are part time, responsibility for and authority over education. Statistics show that most boards of education meet about once a month, but the salary of members of prefectural and ordinance-designated city boards of education averages between 200,000 yen and 300,000 yen. Boards of education should be abolished and responsibility for education in provincial areas should be put in the hands of the education chief. This would make it clear where responsibility lies and also make the national government’s responsibilities clear. School management, teaching methods, etc. could be put in the hands of local governments, but a direction for increasing the national government’s responsibilities concerning a national standard for education needs to be determined. In 2015 a new system was introduced for boards of education. Under the new system, the municipal chief directly appoints and dismisses the “superintendent of schools,” a new post that combines the old school superintendent and board of education chairman posts. The fact that the responsibility of the education chief for the administration of education has been made clear is commendable, yet authority over the adoption of textbooks, personnel matters concerning teachers, and so on remains with the boards of education. Ongoing reforms are therefore required.
3. Without Powers, School Principals Cannot Reform the Management of Schools, So They Must be Given a Lot of Authority
The principal should be the manager of the school, but under the current organizational structure of public schools, principals are not being granted the authority they need to manage their schools. School reform is possible under the leadership of the principal, the top person in the organization. Because of this, principals should be given the authority they need to run their organizations. This authority would include (1) authority over personnel matters, (2) authority over finances, and (3) authority to design the curriculum. The local government’s education chief, meanwhile, should appoint top-flight personnel as principals following a well-publicized and open recruitment process that encourages applications from the private sector.
Finally, whether such reforms are implemented effectively on the frontline of education will hinge on the abilities of each teacher and administrator involved in the guidance of children. Improving the education, hiring, and training of teachers and staff is therefore also a priority task.