Education Secretary T.H. Bell apparently didn't do his homework before meeting with his Japanese counterpart yesterday.

Bell lavished praise on Japan's network of "juku" -- after-hours cram schools -- only to discover that Yoshiro Mori, the minister of education, science and culture, wants to eliminate the need for them.

"We're trying to develop the spirit of 'juku' in America," Bell told Mori at a ceremony in Bell's office. "We say we must have juku because the Japanese are so productive. What we need is a continuation of your magnificent example."

But Mori quickly explained through an interpreter that he was seeking a "rebirth" of Japan's public schools so that students would not have to resort to private cramming to pass college-entrance examinations.

Bell made clear afterward that he wants more time devoted to homework, not a proliferation of private tutors.

"I didn't understand" the concept of juku, Bell said in an interview. "I thought maybe the teachers stayed after school and spent another period of time, and I was going to ask the minister how he persuaded the teachers to do that, since I know that would be a problem in our unionized system."