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State Journal: Sympathy for Michigan; In opposite directions

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The decision of the Michigan legislature to eliminate property taxes as a source of school funding was a hot topic at the annual conference of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which was held this month in Columbus, Ohio.

"I think there are a few people in this room who are scared that their state could go the same way,'' said Robert E. Schiller, the state's superintendent of public instruction, who was the recipient of many sympathetic remarks.

His predicament also made an impression on one of the foreign visitors who attended the meeting.

"It's always nice to meet people who have even bigger problems than you have at home,'' Christopher Farmer, the president of the Society of Education Officers of England, Scotland, and Wales, said when he addressed the conference. "After hearing about Michigan, I'm ready to face the budget battle back home in Coventry with a smile.''

The council's foreign-exchange program also brought in a group of provincial education ministers from Japan. With all the attention that has been paid here to the superior test scores of Japanese students, many Americans might be surprised to learn that the Japanese officials are studying the U.S. education system as a model for some of their own reforms.

"The Japanese system makes much of standardization, with everything fixed at the national level,'' Yoshimasa Ichikowa, the superintendent of education of the Tokyo metropolitan government, said through an interpreter. "We are now going to make our national standards more flexible.''

"In the U.S., the education system is going to the other side,'' he noted.

"In both countries, the education system is deeply connected to the social system, and education change is connected to social change,'' added Michio Yashuhara, the superintendent of the Kyoto prefectural board of education. "Now is a time of more individuality, and that means our education needs to pay more attention to each individual.''

When asked if the United States was making a mistake in moving toward greater centralization in education, the visitors laughed, but declined to offer an opinion.

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