By mistake I sent something from nctm-l to another list. It turned out to be a very useful mistake, since it elicited this response from Dick Askey, a mathematician at the University of Wisconsin.
Here is Dick's response:
>I can answer some >of the question she asks, but part of my answer would come from a >chapter Harold Stevenson's students have written (preliminary version, >I do not know whose names will be on the final version) for a Dept. >of Education book, and I do not like to quote from preliminary >versions without permission. I wrote Stevenson and he replied that >similar comments were given in a chapter he, Shin-ying Lee and >Theresa Graham wrote for a book edited by T. Rohlen and G. Le Tendre >which is due out in a couple of months. Rather than try to summarize >the full paper, here are just a couple of paragraphs which speak >to the question Judy was really asking. > "Teachers in both cities were experienced professionals. The teachers >that we observed in both Sendai and Chicago had taught in elementary >school for an average of 16 years. However, their educational histories >differed greatly. The average teacher in Sendai had attended college >for 3.5 years; only 70% of the first grade teachers and 85% of those >in fifth grade had received a bachelor's degree. The remainer had >received a teacher's certificate from a two-year college. In contrast, >all of the Chicago teachers had received their bachelor's degree and >40% also had received a master's degree." >[In the publication ~The Underachieving Curriculum", the authors >go to great pains to show that our problems in mathematics education >are due to the curriculum, and as part of this try to show that >our teachers are as well educated as teachers in other countries. The >quality of the courses and the knowledge students bring with them when >they start college are very relevant to this, but they did not consider >either. There is no question that our curriculum has shortchanged our >students, but that is not the only problem. Knowledge of teachers is >also very important.] > "Given this difference in formal education, how do we account for >the proficiency in teaching that we observed? The answer lies in the >way teachers are trained. In preparing Japanese teachers, colleges mainly >provide training in substantive areas, such as language arts, mathematics, >and science. Aspiring teachers are expected to enroll in classes dealing >with the methods for teaching these subjects, but this requirement is not >always enforced. A few weeks are spent in practive teaching, but teacher >training does not stop then. Japanese teachers do not acquire their >skills primarily through college classes. Real instruction occurs on the >job. for example, each new teacher interacts closely with a mentor, >a skilled teacher on leave for the year, who is assigend to help several >new teachers. Close interaction with other teachers throughout the >teacher's professional life results in continuous refinements of teaching >skill." > The next paragraph has "Japanese teachers arrive at school around 8 in the >morning and remain at school for 8 or 9 hours a day. Chicago teachers >usually arrive by 8:30 and leave 6 1/2 hours later. Despite the fact that >Japanese teachers spend more time at school, they actually teach between >25 and 29 hours a week, or somewhat more than 4 hours a day in the 5 1/2- >day week. Chicago teachers, in contrast, are in front of the classroom >nearly all of the time they are at school. The energy and skill that >Japanese teachers bring to their teaching are due in large part to the >opportunities they have at school for interacting with other teachers, >preparing lessons, working with individual students, and correcting papers." > Elsewhere, it is mentioned that the teachers have a well thought out >curriculum to follow, so they do not have to start from scratch when >preparing lessons. As Stevenson has said, the Japanese teachers are >not expected to write the concerto, but to play. If we can think of >people who play solos with an orchestra as being creative, we should >be able to think of people who teach as being creative in their >teaching, even if we do not expect them to design the full curriculum >they follow. > Dick Askey > email@example.com