Tokyo to cut High School entries based on endorsements

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Beginning in the 2011 school year, the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education will slash the number of students who can be admitted to one of the metropolitan government-run high schools based on the recommendation of their middle schools–a move other local governments are expected to emulate.

Under the current system, about 11,000 recommended students are admitted each year to public high schools run by the metropolitan government–a one-fourth of the annual total. However, observers have criticized this system as lacking competitiveness because there are no academic tests for such students.

As a result, the education board plans to halve the number of recommendation-based admissions, primarily making cuts at designated schools where the curriculums are focused on helping students advance to higher educational institutions.

Recommendation-based admission systems were introduced in many regions beginning in the 1980s. According to the Tokyo board of education, public high schools in the capital expanded recommendation-based admissions in the 1995 school year by applying the system to all types of educational curriculums–the board’s stated purpose being the diversification of the entrance examination system.

Of the 183 public high schools in Tokyo, 173, or 90 percent, currently use such a system.

Under the existing recommendation-based admission system, student screenings are conducted in late January each year. The final admission decision is based on the middle school’s recommendation and an applicant’s grades, interview performance and a composition or short thesis.

The maximum number of recommendation-based admissions at each school is set by the principal–from 20 percent to 50 percent of the total enrollment for the year.

At high schools where the curriculums are focused on helping students advance to higher institutions–these high schools receive many applications–the board aims to reduce the number of seats for recommendation-based admissions by setting the maximum at 10 percent or less of the schools’ total admissions. Such schools would include Toyama High School in Shinjuku Ward and Hibiya High School in Chiyoda Ward.

Industrial high schools will be allowed to sustain their current number of recommendation-based admissions, sources said.

In Tokyo, the number of applicants for recommendation-based admissions for full-time regular curriculums at popular public high schools sometimes reached nine times the schools’ quotas for such admissions.

The board of education has insisted the system is sufficiently competitive because “many students apply for both regular entrance examinations and the recommendation-based admission system,” a metropolitan government official said.

However, some board members criticized this view during a meeting of the education board last month, at which debate on the issue became particularly heated and complex.

The board eventually decided at the meeting to sustain the current number of seats for recommendation-based admissions for the 2010 academic year. However, it decided to slash the number for academic 2011 and beyond, as some members called the current system unfair because grade records include teachers’ subjective opinions.

As an effort to minimize confusion in students who will be affected by the envisaged changes, the Tokyo education board soon will establish a panel to discuss the issue, requesting the participation of officials at private high schools and representatives of parents groups.

The ordinances for the School Education Law stipulate that high schools can omit academic tests from their entrance examinations.

Taking this as a legal basis, many local education boards introduced the current recommendation-based admission systems. The metropolitan government first implemented such a system in the 1982 school year, starting at vocational high schools.

Similar systems spread nationwide, especially picking up steam from 1984, when the then Education Ministry sent a notice to education boards saying: “We encourage the implementation [of such a system] to help pick out those who are suitable students for each high school.”

This was meant to help change the fact that, at the time, entrance examinations were given great weight in evaluations of academic ability.

(Nov. 10, 2009)

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