- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 8, 2004

TOKYO — Americans studied Japan’s school system in the past to improve their own, but now some Japanese are attracted by a particular type of school in the United States.

More Japanese are dissatisfied with their rigid, standardized education practices and say Japan needs a kind of school where children’s initiatives are encouraged. Some found models at charter schools in the United States.

Educators, specialists, university students and business people recently flew to the United States to examine charter schools.

After Satsuki Tanaka, a Japanese primary school teacher, visited charter schools in Minnesota and California, she said: “Teachers do their job with confidence and philosophy, and students say they really like their school. These are basics, but I felt envious.”

In October, the 21st Century Research Institute, a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization, visited 10 charter schools in Minnesota, its second study trip in two years. In February, teachers and students of Minnesota New Country School were invited to conferences in Tokyo to talk about their school. The events drew about 300 people and national attention.

Miss Tanaka, who chairs the Center to Promote Japanese-Style Charter Schools, a nonprofit organization near Tokyo, said the Japanese education system “needs diversity. While affluent families can have some options in education, many others cannot.”

She said she learned that although some American charter schools struggle financially, they get cooperation from parents and the communities. She was impressed to see parents helping remodel school buildings, she added.

Miss Tanaka said Japan can learn ideas about education from examples in the United States, but that the American context is “very different, such as multinational populations and wide disparities in wealth. So it would be impossible to import a charter school as it is.”

Groups like Miss Tanaka’s want to create publicly funded charter schools to fit the needs of Japanese students. She said the Center to Promote Japanese-Style Charter Schools already has organized a nonpartisan group of lawmakers to push for legislating a charter school system.

“I believe we have the responsibility to create an attractive school,” Miss Tanaka said.

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