A recent article on The New York Times asks the above question. Here’s some thoughts:
The article explains that the Japanese system of instruction in math may be a better one—that it produces better students and teachers in math. On the other hand, there are a lot of reasons that the author points out as causes behind why American teachers fail to teach, and American children fail to learn. To be honest, I can see why the Japanese method is so successful: It challenges both the teachers and the students to fail fast and fail often and then get that critical feedback, creating a normal feedback system. It also lets kids be excited, something that the lecture-style system utterly fails to permit. You are to be quiet, observant, and presumably learning when that is the case. But that’s not exciting, nor social, and if anything is true, it’s that people are social.
Of course, there are the named “dismissals” that I think the author threw in for a bone and not necessarily because he wanted to cover them in depth. These are the systemic issues that are VERY different about the two societies. The first is teacher pay. The second is parental expectations. The third is higher level of parental literacy in Japan.
Teacher pay is obnoxiously low in the US compared to most other first world countries. It’s something I would do but for the fact that I would take home a substantially smaller pile of cash/benefits each month.
Japanese parental expectations are… much higher in Japan. This is partially the third factor and partially the social culture, where you are expected to make your parents happy, and this is something MUCH more Japanese than it is American in this day and age.
Parental literacy is a positively-correlated forcing factor. The more educated your parents are, the more likely they are to be involved. The less, the less likely. I would expect that because Japan already does well in education, that forces child literacy up, whereas in America, because adult literacy is much lower, that forces child literacy down.