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Educational policy analysis archives
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Educational policy analysis archives.
n Vol. 9, no. 13 (April 24, 2001).
Tempe, Ariz. :
b Arizona State University ;
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida.
c April 24, 2001
School reform initiatives as balancing acts : policy variation and educational convergence among Japan, Korea, England and the United States / Jaekyung Lee.
x Research
v Periodicals.
2 710
Arizona State University.
University of South Florida.
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t Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA)
4 856


1 of 11 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 9 Number 13April 24, 2001ISSN 1068-2341 A peer-reviewed scholarly journal Editor: Gene V Glass, College of Education Arizona State University Copyright 2001, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES. Permission is hereby granted to copy any article if EPAA is credited and copies are not sold. Articles appearing in EPAA are abstracted in the Current Index to Journals in Education by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation and are permanently archived in Resources in Education .School Reform Initiatives as Balancing Acts: Policy Variation and Educational Convergence among Japan, Korea, England and the United States Jaekyung Lee University of MaineAbstract School reform initiatives during the last two decad es in Japan, Korea, England, and the United States can be understood as balancing acts. Because policymakers in England and the United Stat es saw their school systems fragmented and student outcomes mediocre, t hey focused reform efforts on raising educational standards, tightenin g curriculum and assessment, and improving academic achievement. In contrast, policymakers in Japan and Korea, who saw their scho ol systems overstandardized and educational processes deficien t, focused their reform efforts on deregulating schools, diversifyin g curriculum and assessment, and enhancing whole-person education. W hile school reform policies were formulated and adopted in response to each country’s unique problems, they also were driven by globaliza tion forces that fostered an international perspective. If implement ed successfully, such cross-cultural policy variations (i.e., standardiza tion vs. differentiation in


2 of 11curriculum, unification vs. diversification in asse ssment, and privatization vs. democratization in governance) wo uld make distinctive educational systems more alike. Cultural and instit utional barriers to educational convergence between the Eastern and Wes tern school systems are discussed. While school reforms worldwide during the last two decades have been concerned with similar goals and values (Note 1), their organizati onal articulation tends to vary between countries. Indeed, education reform in many countri es during the last two decades seems to have been shaped by two sets of forces. One is g rowing public distrust of educational bureaucracies in a climate of rapid political chang e (Wong, 1994a). (Note 2) The other is growing international competition in the context of the global economy (Kearns and Doyle, 1991). Since the consequences of these facto rs for education policies were also likely to vary between countries with different cul tures and institutions, global school reform processes and outcomes would benefit from ex amination from a comparative perspective. Building upon this premise, this study exa mines major school reforms in four selected industrial countries, two (Japan and South Korea) from the East and two (England and the United States) from the West that differ significantly in terms of educational institutions and cultures. Japan and Ko rea have highly centralized school governance systems and homogeneous educational valu es. In the United States and England, educational governance is decentralized an d educational values are relatively heterogeneous. (Note 3) These four countries were a lso selected for their contrasting approach to school reform over the last two decades In England and the U.S., where lack of focus and accountability were identified as major deficiencies of their educational systems, efforts were made to standardi ze curriculum, tighten assessment practices and introduce market-like competition int o their public school systems. (Note 4) Similar political and economic challenges, on th e other hand, resulted in policies to differentiate curriculum, diversify assessment, and decentralize school governance in Korea and Japan. In these two countries, uniform co ntrol and excessive competition were blamed for the lack of humane education despit e their past contributions to academic performance and industrial development. Th e objective of this study is to understand the variation in school reform policies among those four different countries and to explore their implications for educational c onvergence. To this end, this paper reviews school reform literature, related governmen t reports and newspaper articles. Overview of School Reform Initiatives In the following sections, brief overviews of the four countries' major school reform initiatives during the last two decades are provide d. Japan In Japan, education has played a critical role in national development. Japan has been successful in providing equal educational oppo rtunity and accomplishing high educational standards. On the other hand, the Japan ese school system has neglected children's social and emotional development, paying exclusive attention to academic achievement. Since the 1970s, serious problems have been identified, including high rates of suicide in children, children refusing to attend school, violence in school and homes, and insidious school bullying. There has als o been increasing public criticism


3 of 11expressing distrust of schools, teachers, and the e ducation sector as a whole. The educational system in Japan was in a grave "state o f desolation" and awareness of these problems has caused nationwide educational reform e fforts (Sasamori, 1993). The National Council on Education Reform ( NCER) was established in 1984, as an ad hoc advisory committee to then Prime Minister Nakasone. The Council submitted four reports in which it identified fundamental pri nciples for educational reform: (1) putting emphasis on individuality; (2) putting emph asis on fundamentals; (3) the cultivation of creativity, thinking ability, and po wer of expression; (4) the expansion of opportunities for choices; (5) the humanization of the educational environment; (6) the transition to lifelong learning; (7) coping with in ternationalization; (8) coping with the Information Age. The NCER described its mission as nothing less than completing the third great educational reform in modern Japanese h istory that was begun by the Central Council on Education in 1974 (Lincicombe, 1993). School reform policies that the Ministry o f Education actually enforced based on the recommendations from the Council were very limi ted (Sasamori, 1993). Educational reform lost impetus in the midst of the resignation of Nakasone cabinet and political turnover, and policy adoption lagged. (Note 5) More over, most of the recommendations were not implemented because of the passive attitud es of educators and administrators. There were also other barriers to policy implementa tion such as the increasing cost of education, declining family support for schooling, and highly competitive college entrance examinations. Particularly, college entran ce examinations influenced not only the content of courses of study but also the attitu des of students and educators toward the goal of teaching and learning. Nevertheless, the country hasn't changed i ts reform goals and revived its reform agenda in the 1990s. For instance, the Curriculum C ouncil, with an inquiry from the Minister of Education in 1996, comprehensively disc ussed how to help children's well-balanced development and how to educate them t o be sound members of the nation and the society (Japanese Ministry of Education, 19 98). The Council again recognized the importance of the emotional and moral education in response to such problematic behavior as bullying among children, their refusal to go to school, juvenile delinquency and children's poor morality and sociality. It reco mmended changes in teaching and grading methods as well as changes in curriculum an d school hours: narrowing the scope of required courses and increasing elective courses Korea Very much like Japan, Korean education has expanded rapidly, elementary and secondary education has become universal and higher education is highly accessible. This remarkable educational development, enabled by national planning efforts and public investments in education, contributed to mas s production of human capital and resulting economic growth. However, this growth has been accompanied by serious educational problems such as schooling becoming a t ool for college entrance exam passage and excessive government regulation of scho ols. All of this inhibited development of individual students' creativity, acc ommodation of differences in student aptitude and interest, and moral and personal devel opment. Moreover, prevailing cramming institutions and private tutoring distorte d schooling practices and put excessive economic burdens on parents. Under these circumstances, the Presidentia l Commission on Education Reform (PCER) was established in 1994, and has been instru mental in Korean education reform (Gahng, 1988; Si-gan-gwa-gong-gan-sa, 1995). Beginn ing May 31, 1995, the PCER


4 of 11made four sequential reform proposals. For the refo rm of K-12 education, the proposals included new curricula for humanities and creativit y, creation of autonomous school communities, and a new college admission system. Wh ile introducing more authentic student assessment, the reform requested that schoo ls maintain a "comprehensive personal record" for each student, including all pe rsonal data and that the record be given substantial weight in the college admissions process. Each school was also required to organize a school council which involve d parents and teachers in schoolwide decisionmaking. At the same time, different kinds o f high schools and specialized programs were allowed to be established. To hold sc hool districts and schools accountable, the government's administrative and fi nancial support was linked to their performance evaluation results. The transition of education reform has bee n smooth despite changes in the government regime (Kim, 1998). The seventh revision of the national curriculum was made in 1997, following the vision and framework of school reform envisioned by the PCER (Huh, 1998). Schools could have increased time for activities that are deemed educationally appropriate for their students. Howev er, the extent of allowed changes was minimal. For example, the number of hours for optio nal activities at each school's discretion increased from 0-1 hours a week to 2 hou rs a week in elementary schools and from 1-2 hours to 4 hours a week in middle schools. In addition, differentiated curricula were introduced in which different learning content s and objectives were prepared for different groups of students. However, little effor t was made to reduce class size and increase teacher support, which makes it unlikely t hat this measure alone could reduce the need for private tutoring. Despite their broad appeal to the public, those reform policies were also under criticism by educators because of their top-down ap proach and exclusion of teachers (KATO, 1997). While such comprehensive, sweeping sc hool reform efforts have been made, national newspapers have reported so-called collapse of classrooms' or 'desolation of education' phenomena across the nation's high sc hools (Chosunilbo, August 23, 1999; Joongangilbo, October 20, 1999). This includes abse nteeism, truancy, resistance to school authority and challenge to teachers, apathy, and other behavioral problems observed in schools and classrooms. It remains to b e seen whether the abovementioned school reform measures can successfully address the se challenges. England Here the need for educational change arose from concerns about relatively low academic standards and poor student achievement (Pr ing, 1995). Several reports criticized schools for poor and falling standards. Many also viewed the country's poor economic performance since World War II, relative t o that of other competing nations, as due largely to the poor training and inadequate skills of the workforce. Commenting on the origins of the 1988 Education Reform Act, a deputy secretary at the Department of Education and Science (DES) pointed out a growin g conviction that economic well-being was being adversely affected by the perf ormance of an education service and a need to reduce and control public expenditure in proportion to GDP and to be more sure about getting value for money (Thomas, 1993).The Education Act of 1988 introduced a national cur riculum which was articulated in terms of attainment targets and program of study wi thin a range of core and foundation subjects. Each subject programs of study specified what content needed to be covered for key stages 1-4. The attainment targets in each subject were at ten levels, so that progression in each subject could be established an d teacher, child and parent would


5 of 11know how the pupil performed relative to the object ives and to other pupils. This ties in with the national tests that check whether students are meeting these targets. The 1988 Education Reform Act sought to si multaneously centralize and decentralize control of policy and practice (Thomas 1993). By introducing national curriculum and assessment systems, the reforms tend ed to shift the traditional control of local school districts to central governments. By i ntroducing site-based management system known as the Local Management of Schools (LM S), the reforms also tended to move control over educational resources from school districts to individual schools. The 1988 reform also served to privatize education to s ome extent and increase school competition, enhancing the power of the client in r elation to that of the provider. It introduced grant-maintained schools, which allowed schools to apply for maintenance from the central government and ceased to be mainta ined by the LEA. (Note 6) These comprehensive school reform measures were not free from criticisms. The reform took a top-down approach: teachers were excl uded from the process of setting the reform agenda because the purpose was to challe nge producer interest (Thomas, 1993). It was argued that the country's hasty imple mentation of a national curriculum and assessment led to an unmanageable curriculum an d an ineffective assessment system (Silvernail, 1996). Moreover, the potential of the national curriculum to enhance equity has been questioned since it hardly ensures valuabl e and relevant learning experiences for working-class students (Burwood, 1992). School governance reform also raised challenges both for schools that may opt out of dis trict control in order to receive the extra money and preserve the status quo and for the central government that deal directly and efficiently with growing numbers of grant-maint ained schools (Wholstetter and Anderson, 1994).United States Education reform in the U.S. is very diffi cult to characterize because the substance and structure of reform varies widely across the co untry. However, most of the reform efforts during the last two decades may be put unde r the label of standardsbased systemic education reform, which was "a uniquely Am erican adaptation of the education policies and structures of many of the world's high ly developed nations" (O'Day and Smith, 1993). Adopted school reform policies varied among states but all were aimed at raising academic standards for all students and imp roving the quality of public school systems. The 1983 national report, A Nation at Risk, created a crisis atmosphere, connecting U.S. economic decline with relatively poor educatio nal performance and suggesting that educational upgrading would lead to economic revita lization (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). In response to the policy challenge, many states became more active in standards-based education reform dur ing the 1980s: the states increased course credit requirements for graduation, raised s tandards for teacher preparation, mandated teacher tests for certification, set highe r levels for teacher pay, developed state curriculum frameworks or guides, and established ne w statewide student assessments (Lee, 1997). These policies, which emerged since A Nation at Risk, culminated with the 1989 national education goals (enacted into the Goa ls 2000 in 1994). U.S. school governance reform was very slow and diffused. But, as with England, it may also be characterized by a combination of centr alization and decentralization measures along with a privatization trend. State le gislatures and state boards of


6 of 11education increasingly set top-down performance sta ndards for local boards and schools. At the same time local boards yielded autonomy to t he state, they further lost control of schools through adoption of site-based management p ractices and local school council. This often led to local-board and central-office "d isintermediation" (Wang and Walberg, 1999). Increasing numbers of charter schools in man y states increased school choice and competition. At the same time, public vouchers and tax credits for private school tuition strengthened consumer power over education. While many systemic school reform efforts h ave been made across the nation, findings from the Third International Mathematics a nd Science Study (TIMSS) showed that the U.S is far from achieving the national goa l of being first in the world in mathematics and science achievement by the year 200 0 (NCES, 1996). The TIMSS curriculum study also pointed out the prevailing pr oblem of current U.S. curricula, that is, "a mile wide and an inch deep" characterizing b road, superficial coverage of many topics (Schmidt et al., 1997). While these findings may enhance controversies about the adoption of voluntary national curriculum standards and assessments, their ultimate outcomes remain to be seen. Some have expressed the concern that simply tinkering toward unrealistically high goals would bring endle ss cycle of educational crisis and new reform (Tyack and Cuban, 1995). Similarities and Differences in School Reform Initi atives Comparison of school reform initiatives ac ross the four different countries reveals the fact that educational reform policies share com mon goals and reflect the utopian view that educational reform can change schools and advance society. In each of the four study countries, education reform was initiated pri marily to solve their social or economic problems, and gained relatively wide publi c attention and/or support. During this process, education, specifically public school was blamed for the broader problems, but at the same time reforming education was seen a s a promising solution. In each of these countries, and regardless of the issues to be addressed, reports/proposals from national commissions or gove rnment agencies played catalystic roles by giving momentum and legitimacy for nationw ide school reform efforts. In the U.S., the National Commission on Excellence in Educ ation, a prestigious ad hoc panel, issued A Nation at Risk in 1983, which triggered a wave of reform activity in the states (Koppich and Guthrie, 1993). In England, the Depart ment of Education and Science white papers and ministerial speeches developed the theme of education reform, and some of the proposals shaped the Education Act of 1 988 (Pring, 1995). In Japan, the National Council on Education Reform, set up in 198 4 as an ad hoc advisory committee to then Prime Minister Nakasone, submitted four rep orts which provided the principles of educational reform (Sasamori, 1993). In Korea, t he Presidential Commission on Education Reform, established in 1994, has been ins trumental in education reform by producing four sequential reform proposals (Gahng, 1998). Remarkable similarities are observed in the policies of countries that share cultural and institutional heritages. On the one hand, Japan and Korea were very similar in the nature and scope of their national reforms. While t he Japanese government adopted comprehensive reform proposals that included advanc ement of lifelong education and internationalization of education (Lincicombe, 1993 ), the Korean government followed a similar reform path later utilizing the same catchphrases (KATO, 1997). This arises primarily from policy imitation as enhanced by the two countries' proximity and shared problems in education. On the other hand, policy si milarity was also observed between England and the U.S., which may be attributed to th eir common educational issues and


7 of 11 mutual learning/problem-solving efforts (Wholstette r & Anderson, 1994; Silvernail, 1996; Levin, 1998). Table 1 summarizes major school reform them es and policies in the four countries. In response to diversified individual needs for hum ane development as well as emerging social needs for national competitiveness in a glob al economy, Japan and Korea attempted to differentiate their national curricula and to decentralize their governance systems during the last two decades. In contrast, a concern with national economic performance was injected into the policy debate on educational standards and school choice in England and the U.S. during the same peri od. Thus, England established a national curriculum and test, and extended parental choice and market-like school competition. The U.S. promoted nationalor state-l evel educational standard-setting activities along with an increase in school choice programs.Table 1 Contrast of Major School Reforms in England and the U.S. vs. Korea and Japan England & the U.S.Korea & Japan Major School Reform Themes and Goals Improving academic standards academic excellence for all efficiency and accountability focus on student outcomes rigor and coherence choice among schools Enhancing whole-person education personal development for all creativity and humanity focus on schooling processes autonomy and diversity choice within schools Curriculum/Instruction Reform Policies Standardization/Intensification national curriculum (England) challenging state curriculum frameworks; raised courserequirements for high schoolgraduation (U.S.) Differentiation/Enrichment curriculum revision toward less requirements and moreelective courses (Korea and Japan) ability grouping in core subjects (Korea) Assessment/Testing Reform Policies Unification/Tightening national tests; performance-based accountability (England) voluntary national test proposal; high-stakes statestudent assessments (U.S.) Diversification/Loosening more diverse/flexible screening for college admissions (Koreaand Japan) deemphasizing academic records in assessment (Korea) Governance/Finance Reform Policies Disintermediation/Privatization open enrollment; grant-maintained schools (England) voucher; tuition tax credit; open enrollment; charterschools (U.S.) Decentralization/Democratization election of local school boards; school councils (Korea) abolition of central government's approval ofsuperintendent (Japan)


8 of 11Policy Implementation and Educational Convergence Many educational researchers have observed a global convergence in both educational ideology and educational structure (Meyer et al., 1 979; Ramirez and Boli, 1987). These comparative studies focused on the role of integrat ed transnational organizational apparatus vis-a-vis nationstates, particularly for developi ng countries, in organizing national education systems in accordance with world educational ideolo gies, principles, and practices. Recently, the effect of globalization on national educational pol icy and practice, particularly for industrial countries, has become a special topic for comparati ve education research (Taylor, 1999). However, little attention has been paid to the dive rgence of educational policy approaches among countries with different cultures and institutions and the consequences of cross-cultural policy variation for educational convergence. Given cross-cultural policy variation towar d desired educational goals and values, the central question is whether the different reform pa ths are leading to educational convergence between those Eastern and Western countries. As Roh len (1983) pointed out, American education suffers from fragmentation, while Japanes e education suffers from "over standardization." In the curriculum and assessment arenas, more uniform curriculum and high-stakes assessment with a focus on academic ach ievement were expected in England and the U.S., whereas more adaptive curricula and flexible assessments towards whole-person education were expected in Korea and Japan (see Figure 1). Th us, these opposite policy measures, if implemented successfully, would make the two differ ent systems more alike. At the same time, in the school governance arena, increased state pow er and decreased local district influence was expected in England and the U.S., whereas decreased state power and increased local school board influence was expected in Korea and Japan (se e Figure 1). Combined with curriculum and assessment reforms, school governance reforms are l ikely to boost educational convergence. Examination of such changes in educational processe s and outcomes require more systematic and comprehensive data collection than the current international assessment projects which focus on academic achievement (see Lee, 1999).


9 of 11 Figure 1. Convergence of four national traditional education systems and their school reform efforts Whether such movements lead to expected po licy outcomes depends on the culture and institution of each country affecting education al policy implementation. Reforms have a better chance to be implemented if they are aligned with institutionalized values, rules and procedures (Meyer and Rowan, 1978; Rowan, 1982; Fuhrman, Clune, and Elmore, 1988; Cuban, 1992; Lee, 1996). Policy succe ss also depends on the mechanisms that coordinate or connect the flow of resources an d practices within the multi-layered school system (Gamoran and Dreeben, 1986; Barr and Dreeben, 1988; Loveless, 1993; Wong, 1994b; Lee, 1996). The school reform processes in those four c ountries were not always smooth because of policy implementation barriers. Implemen tation of reform policies that require breaking up with traditional values and pra ctices should face more severe resistance from vested interest groups and more fre quent interruption or even demise subject to political changes. Indeed, the reform in itiatives were under criticisms in all four countries because of their radical approach to educational changes and exclusion of teachers in their top-down reform processes. While the goals of school reform remain legitimate and policy renewal efforts by a subseque nt government have the reforms move along, future reform process is hard to antici pate accurately, and its end results may look quite different from what was expected ini tially. Thus, educational convergence between those Eastern and Western count ries may further lag as a result of their lagged school reform processes.


10 of 11 Copyright 2001 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesThe World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is General questions about appropriateness of topics o r particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, or reach him at College of Education, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 8 5287-0211. (602-965-9644). The Commentary Editor is Casey D. C obb: .EPAA Editorial Board Michael W. Apple University of Wisconsin Greg Camilli Rutgers University John Covaleskie Northern Michigan University Alan Davis University of Colorado, Denver Sherman Dorn University of South Florida Mark E. Fetler California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Richard Garlikov Thomas F. Green Syracuse University Alison I. Griffith York University Arlen Gullickson Western Michigan University Ernest R. House University of Colorado Aimee Howley Ohio University Craig B. Howley Appalachia Educational Laboratory William Hunter University of Calgary Daniel Kalls Ume University Benjamin Levin University of Manitoba Thomas Mauhs-Pugh Green Mountain College Dewayne Matthews Western Interstate Commission for HigherEducation William McInerney Purdue University Mary McKeown-Moak MGT of America (Austin, TX) Les McLean University of Toronto Susan Bobbitt Nolen University of Washington Anne L. Pemberton Hugh G. Petrie SUNY Buffalo Richard C. Richardson New York University Anthony G. Rud Jr. Purdue University Dennis Sayers Ann Leavenworth Centerfor Accelerated Learning Jay D. Scribner University of Texas at Austin Michael Scriven Robert E. Stake University of Illinois—UC


11 of 11 Robert Stonehill U.S. Department of Education David D. Williams Brigham Young UniversityEPAA Spanish Language Editorial BoardAssociate Editor for Spanish Language Roberto Rodrguez Gmez Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico Adrin Acosta (Mxico) Universidad de J. Flix Angulo Rasco (Spain) Universidad de Teresa Bracho (Mxico) Centro de Investigacin y DocenciaEconmica-CIDEbracho Alejandro Canales (Mxico) Universidad Nacional Autnoma Ursula Casanova (U.S.A.) Arizona State Jos Contreras Domingo Universitat de Barcelona Erwin Epstein (U.S.A.) Loyola University of Josu Gonzlez (U.S.A.) Arizona State Rollin Kent (Mxico)Departamento de InvestigacinEducativa-DIE/ Mara Beatriz Luce (Brazil)Universidad Federal de Rio Grande do Sul-UFRGSlucemb@orion.ufrgs.brJavier Mendoza Rojas (Mxico)Universidad Nacional Autnoma deMxicojaviermr@servidor.unam.mxMarcela Mollis (Argentina)Universidad de Buenos Humberto Muoz Garca (Mxico) Universidad Nacional Autnoma deMxicohumberto@servidor.unam.mxAngel Ignacio Prez Gmez (Spain)Universidad de Daniel Schugurensky (Argentina-Canad)OISE/UT, Simon Schwartzman (Brazil)Fundao Instituto Brasileiro e Geografiae Estatstica Jurjo Torres Santom (Spain)Universidad de A Carlos Alberto Torres (U.S.A.)University of California, Los

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