The Search for Balance
High Stakes Schooling: What We Can Learn from Japan's Experiences with Testing, Accountability and Education Reform by Christopher Bjork
University of Chicago Press, December 11, 2015
Worldwide, educators often look East in their search for answers to the question of balance between academically rigorous curriculum and engaging teaching. Japan is a worthy case study, with its decades of experience in high-stakes testing as well as the more recent acknowledgement that there are costs associated with test-based, incentivized learning approaches. Japan introduced elementary education reform over 15 years ago that relaxes the stakes for elementary students, testing the hypothesis that high academic performance needs to be tied closely with two factors that are not test-driven - strong human relationships within schools and attention to students' social, emotional, and intellectual needs. In this new book, Vassar professor of education Christopher Bjork uses classroom ethnography to research this reform and to answer questions relevant to teachers everywhere: Does testing overburden students? Does it impede innovation and encourage conformity? Can schools be reshaped to nurture creativity and curiosity while still maintaining high academic performance? Bjork takes us inside Japanese classrooms to see what teachers are doing, how students are learning, and how new policies affect the potentially withering impact of test-driven classrooms. Early indications make clear that talented teachers are the key to shifting the emphasis from rote learning and test prep to the deeper investigation of ideas. Clearer still is the necessity for schools to support such teachers' growth and autonomy.