Academic journal article Education Research International

Teachers' Professional Identities in an Era of Testing Accountability in Japan: The Case of Teachers in Low-Performing Schools

Academic journal article Education Research International

Teachers' Professional Identities in an Era of Testing Accountability in Japan: The Case of Teachers in Low-Performing Schools

Article excerpt

Recommended by Daniel Moos

Graduate School of Education, The University of Tokyo, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan

Received 6 March 2012; Revised 8 August 2012; Accepted 12 August 2012

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

1. Introduction

School is a place where children and teachers are forming their identities. Teachers enter the educational field with professional self-images obtained through their experiences as students; however, these images are continuously re-contextualised based on the teachers' experiences as professionals. In this process, teachers draw upon "resources" [1, page 66] or "traditions" [2, page 551] to make sense of their work environment, career prospects, work lives, and professional, and private selves. Beck [3], speaking about the English context, also described what Japan has witnessed, namely, the enactment of "a project of governmental professionalism" [3, page 133]--a systematic effort by the government and its agencies to promote certain conceptions of professionalism and to marginalise others. This authoritarian approach has been circumscribing the resources and traditions that Japanese teachers traditionally draw upon to form and reform their professional identities.

This paper examines whether and how Japanese teachers' professional identities have shifted in this context, particularly regarding heightened testing accountability. Japan has an international reputation for extensive testing. However, except for a few years in the 1960s, it did not have national testing per se until 2007. In that year, national testing for sixth-grade elementary school students and third-grade junior high school students began. For the 2010 tests, the newly elected Democratic government scaled down the testing to 30% of schools. At the same time, however, according to a report by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology [4], 13,891 (61.3%) of the schools that were not selected took part voluntarily, boosting the total rate of participation to 73.2%1 . Many schools now set targets for students' performance based on the growing pressures of testing and assessment; these developments have affected teachers' work and subjectivity. It is possible that teachers struggle with blending their own beliefs and conceptions and the official requirements of education reform, with respect to relevant pedagogy and being a good teacher.

2. Policy Contexts

In recent years, more than ever, Japanese schooling has strictly focused on the nation's economic need for human resources in the era of globalised economies. For example, in January 2005, the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren ), a powerful representative of the business world, published its recommendations for the future direction of education [5]. It began by stating that "Education is the foundation for national prosperity. Particularly for us, as a nation with scarce national resources and energy, the top priority should be placed squarely on developing the human resources which will and can perform well in various fields, not only at home but abroad" (page 1). It went on to declare that this project would be realised via greater competition among teachers and schools. Particular recommendations were made based on the principles of diversity , competition , and evaluation .

In response, quasimarket reforms based on private business systems were introduced to enable what Gleeson and Gunter [6], in the English context, called the "centralised micro-management of education." This involved sharply focused interventions in which accountability, developments, and outcomes became subject to management scrutiny at both the macro- and micro- educational levels. At the macro-educational level, the state began prescribing the operating environments for schools. …

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