Column One: Research
American and Japanese students share many of the same attitudes about mathematics, and students in both countries spend roughly equal amounts of time working on the subject, according to surveys conducted in the two nations.
Then why do Japanese students outperform Americans in math?
The answer appears to lie in the school curriculum, according to Jon D. Miller, director of the U.S. study and of the Public Opinion Laboratory at Northern Illinois University.
As part of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth, a federally funded project, Mr. Miller surveyed samples of 7th and 10th graders in 1987. In 1989, operating separately, Japan's National Institute of Educational Research conducted a similar survey of Japanese students.
The surveys found that Americans report spending more time on homework than their Japanese peers, although Japanese children also spend time in after-school "jukus." In addition, the vast majority of students in both countries say hard work is necessary to attain success, and a majority of Americans--and 45 percent of Japanese children--say math is important for future employment.
But a previous cross-national study, Mr. Miller said at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, demonstrated that the American math curriculum "asks too little of students," compared with that of higher-achieving countries.
"As these preliminary data indicate," Mr. Miller added, "the fault is not with the level of effort of American students."
William Schmidt, a professor of education at Michigan State University, has been named the national research coordinator for the Third International Mathematics and Science Study.
The study, the most extensive ever conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, will test students in the two subjects in about 30 countries in 1994 and 1998.
Mr. Schmidt, who has recently begun a study of international instructional differences in math and science, will be responsible for designing, overseeing, and reporting the U.S. portion of the study.
Edward D. Roeber, director of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, has been named director of a new interstate consortium on alternative assessments run by the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Mr. Roeber said one of his top priorities will be to gather research on prior efforts in alternative assessment, both in this country and abroad.--rr