Welcome new readers! I’ve been told that the link to my previous blog about the recent Race to Nowhere screening was shared on a local high school listserv….
Yesterday morning’s New York Times greeted the nation with a stark rebuke to the message of Race to Nowhere. The headline reads, “In PISA Test, Top Test Shanghai Scores Stun Educators.”
With China’s debut in international standardized testing, students in Shanghai have surprised experts by outscoring their counterparts in dozens of other countries, in reading as well as in math and science, according to the results of a respected exam…..
…“Wow, I’m kind of stunned, I’m thinking Sputnik,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., who served in President Ronald Reagan’s Department of Education, referring to the groundbreaking Soviet satellite launching. Mr. Finn, who has visited schools all across China, said, “I’ve seen how relentless the Chinese are at accomplishing goals, and if they can do this in Shanghai in 2009, they can do it in 10 cities in 2019, and in 50 cities by 2029.”
But should we really be worried? Last week the New York Times’ Room for Debate hosted a discussion on college education in China. The piece, “High Test Scores, Low Ability” argued,
Keju is dead now but its spirit is very alive in China today, in the form of gaokao, or the College Entrance Exam. It’s the only exam that matters since it determines whether students can attend college and what kind of colleges they can attend. Because of its life-determining nature, gaokao has become the “baton” that conducts the whole education orchestra. Students, parents, teachers, school leaders and even local government officials all work together to get good scores. From a very young age, children are relieved of any other burden or deprived of opportunity to do anything else so they can focus on getting good scores.
The result is that Chinese college graduates often have high scores but low ability. Those who are good at taking tests go to college, which also emphasizes book knowledge. But when they graduate, they find out that employers actually want much more than test scores….
Sounds kind of like where we’re headed with AP…
For years, Americans have been able to dismiss Chinese education for the reasons noted above. “They’re machines,” we scoffed. “They lack the creativity of Americans. We care about the ‘whole person’.” But now it seems that the Chinese are harnessing their famously killer work ethic to meaningful educational reforms, such as improving teacher salaries and freedom to experiment in the classroom. Couple that with the fact that “Chinese students spend less time than American students on athletics, music and other activities not geared toward success on exams in core subjects” and one can see that the prognosis for U.S. competitiveness is not looking so good.
So where does this leave us? Throwing every kid into AP classes is not the answer. I say, for starters, let loose our brightest kids. Reward and don’t shy away from excellence. Confront the forces of anti-intellectualism and feel-good self esteem that are often found in the teaching profession itself. And let’s take another look at the role of sports in school. Seriously, the amount of energy and resources and recognition that goes into sports is insane. School should be primarily about… school. Schools should be trying to do fewer things really really well. For example, algebra–and none of this MCPS “everyone take it in middle school but a C demonstrates mastery.” Make sure every kids is rock solid with algebra, whether they take it “early” or “late.” Writing–real, substantive writing. By middle school kids should be writing 5 paragraph essays in their sleep. A semester for health? A full year of some bogus tech class? In my world, they’d be gone.
I like this diagram that I found on blog Headrush: