To improve education, Americans should focus on continuously improving teaching by adopting the same techniques used in Japan, Northwestern University Professor Matthew Easterday argued in a recent essay in The Hill.
Lesson study – a design process for teachers that originated in the U.S. but is rarely found in American classrooms – allows educators to relentlessly research, design and test and share their lessons.
“Japan shows that an educational system can effectively implement lesson study, but the big barrier for us is providing teachers with the resources to do it, including training, time, and curricular frameworks,” said Easterday, assistant professor of learning sciences in the School of Education and Social Policy.
“That would require changes at the district, state and likely the federal level to really spread widely.”
Lesson study allows teams of teachers to redesign a lesson over several weeks, not just to improve the lesson, but as an in-depth form of professional development, Easterday wrote in The Hill.
“The team teaches this lesson publicly in front of the whole school, sometimes in front of hundreds of other teachers, who observe and provide feedback,” he wrote. “Teachers share their lessons, which are aligned to a shared course of study, so that other teachers can build upon the lessons through lesson study journals.”
The problem is that much of the educational policy debate happens at the “macro” level and doesn't directly connect to teaching and what happens in schools, Easterday said.
For example, vouchers or charters don’t directly determine how teaching happens in schools, “so we haven’t really a seen a big impact on learning from these approaches,” Easterday said. “But focusing policy on providing schools with the resources to improve teaching could make a big difference.”
If anything, proposals by privatization advocates undermine the conditions needed for this sort of collaborative design, said Easterday, a Northwestern University Public Voice fellow through the OpEd Project.
“Improving teaching requires supporting teachers’ design collaboration, rather than having them compete for merit pay,” Easterday wrote. “It promotes the sharing of instructional insights across schools, rather than protecting intellectual property.
“Privatization has not succeeded in improving education, because it does not directly address the root causes of improving teaching,” he wrote. “We need to stop trying to do more of what doesn’t work, and start investing in improving teaching.”
- Read Easterday's piece, "The Japanese education system may solve the problems of U.S. education."
- Learn more about Matt Easterday's work and the School of Education and Social Policy's Learning Sciences doctoral program.