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Culture and Education

Can the Board of Education System Survive?

Shigehisa Komatsu
Professor, Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

(1) Boards of education and superintendents of education

Whenever a scandal occurs among teaching staff or there is improper treatment of pupils at school, it is usually the superintendent of education of the local government's board of education, surrounded by other education officials, who faces the press and issues an apology. A prime example is the press coverage surrounding the recent bullying related suicide in Otsu City. Appointed by the board of education, the superintendent of education governs all matters that come under the authority of the board while receiving guidance and supervision from the board, and has the duty of providing specialized advice to the board of education. At the same time, the superintendent of education, as the head of the secretariat of the board of education, presides over individual specific matters being handled by the secretariat and has other functions such as guiding and supervising other personnel.

Japan's board of education system was set up under the Board of Education Law enacted in 1948. Based on the recommendation of the report of the First US Education Mission to Japan and proposals from Japan's Education Reform Committee and others, America's board of education system was introduced as a model. When the system was first introduced, it caused considerable disruption including bickering about its simultaneous implementation by all local governments and accusations of political bias accompanying the direct public election of members of boards of education by citizens, so it did not really function as well as expected. Later, in 1956, the Local Education Administration Law was enacted in order to "harmonize education administration and general administration and to secure political neutrality in education and stability in education administration," and the Board of Education Law was abolished. Although the board of education system that emerged from the enactment of the Local Education Administration Law was by no means stable, it has survived and, about half a century later, the debate about its review is intensifying.

(2) Decentralization reform and the review of board of education system

This has all happened before a background of changes in local government system caused by evolving decentralization and municipal mergers. Amid attempts to drastically review the division of roles between central and regional government, discussions have also heated up regarding the reorganization of education administration. The debate is wide ranging, from a review of the current simultaneous implementation and a switch to optional implementation to the abolition of the board of education system itself. Apparently triggered by the tone of such arguments, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has made a review of the ideal format of boards of education through its Central Council for Education and others and in 2007 carried out a revision of the Local Education Administration Law in order to keep the basic framework of the system while strengthening its function, clarifying accountability, promoting decentralization, and reinforcing liaison between governors or mayors and boards of education.

Nowadays it is Toru Hashimoto, the Mayor of Osaka, who is pressing for more debate on the review of the board of education system. Since his period of office as Governor of Osaka Prefecture he has seized the opportunity to criticize the board of education system and, as a result, to take the leading role in governor and mayor led education reform. One of the points at issue is a review of the relationship between education and politics. The gist of the ordinance put forward by his Osaka Restoration Association is that government can and should be involved in education administration, which has stirred up a great deal of debate. Then, March 2012 saw three ordinances come into effect: Basic Ordinance on Education Administration, which specifies the rules enabling the Governor to set educational goals in consultation with the Osaka Prefectural Board of Education and the Governor's authority to dismiss education board members; Ordinance on Prefectural Schools, which makes high schools that have failed to reach their quota of candidates for three years in succession and have no prospect of improvement subject to reorganization and the appointment of a head teacher in principle by open recruitment; Basic Ordinance on Staff, which makes staff who have violated the same formal order three times subject to dismissal.

Along with the education administration by boards of education which have been set up and run to maintain the political neutrality of education, the education administration by individual governors who have been directly elected by the people is about to be initiated. Osaka's experiment has only just begun so it would be premature to judge whether it will have any consequences for local education administration or any beneficial or other effects on children. In the US, mayoral takeovers, in which boards of education have been broken up and control of education conferred upon mayors, have already been taking place since the mid-1990s in some of the major cities across the country such as Boston, Chicago, and New York, and have generated interest among many scholars who are researching their merits and demerits.

(3) Japan Educational Administration Society's symposium on governor and mayor led education reforms and the board of education system

The 47th conference of the Japan Educational Administration Society will be held on October 27 and 28, 2012 at Waseda University's International Conference Hall. Anyone can attend the special event (from 9:30am on October 27) and public symposium (Part One from 12:30pm on October 27 and Part Two from 9:30am on October 28). For the special event, "The Revitalization of Boards of Education Based on the Leadership of Superintendents of Education," the Society will invite superintendents of education who have attracted attention nationwide for their positive actions in order to give a better understanding of their policy measures and their results and issues. The public symposium, titled "Governor and Mayor Led Education Reform and the Board of Education System" with the sub-themes "Trends in Osaka Prefecture and Osaka City and their national implications" in Part One and "Examining the influence of governors and mayors on education administration" in Part Two, will be an opportunity to gain important insights into the overall ideal local education governance for our country. I would urge anyone with an interest in this subject to attend.

Shigehisa Komatsu
Professor, Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

[Profile]
Born in Tokyo in 1953. Having obtained a PhD, he held positions at Soai University and Kobe Gakuin University before taking up his current post. His area of specialization is Educational Administration Studies. His publications include Research into American Urban Education and Politics [Amerika toshi kyoiku seiji no kenkyu] (Jimbun Shoin); The Direction of School Reform (Revised Edition) [Gakko kaikaku no yukue (Kaiteiban)] (Showado).