Shanghai;s 15-year-old students are way better than the rest of the world in reading, science and, especially math, notes Education Gadfly’s Amber M. Winkler, looking at the latest PISA results. “In math, they scored nearly a full standard deviation above the OECD average.” And it’s not just rote learning: PISA asks students to apply knowledge to real-world problems.
As an authoritarian regime, China “can force educational change in ways that are unthinkable in democracies,” Winkler writes. Still, “despite our vastly different governments and cultures, there may yet be a few lessons that America can learn from China.”
(Shanghai) unabashedly closed or merged its lowest-performing schools with its highest-performing ones (of which there are apparently enough). It also transferred—involuntarily, mind you—a number of outstanding urban school teachers and principals to low-performing rural schools and a number of rural staff to high-performing urban sites in order to learn the ropes. Under “commissioned administration,” they can assign a good public school to take over a bad one.
The Chinese create consortia of strong and weak, old and new, and public and private schools with one exceptionally strong school at the core, which is charged with sharing best practices, Winkler writes.
Virtually all teachers are subject-matter experts, not generalists; effective classroom practitioners gain a higher “professional status;” and China has common curriculum standards. It also has a rigorous framework for teaching that includes small groups of instructors engaged in lesson preparation and teaching demonstrations. And in a policy alien to Americans, municipalities in China funnel more money and better teachers to “key schools” which serve high-performing students.
The Chinese rank schools and publish the ratings.
Of course, Chinese schools benefit from the reverence for education, which started with Confucius, Winkler writes. The culture includes a belief that academic success is a matter of effort, under the student’s control, rather than the result of inborn talent.
Unrelenting practice is the secret to the Chinese education system, writes Yuan Tian, a master’s student in philanthropic studies at Indiana University, in a letter to Gadfly.
As a student in China, I was told since my first day of elementary school to focus on my studies, to achieve high scores on all tests, and to go to a respected university. Similarly, teachers are instructed to cover only the content needed to guarantee their students obtain scores worthy of university admittance. The reason is simple: A solid university education means a good job in the future . . .
My participation in the Chinese educational system came with a price — I paid for my acceptance into a good college with twelve years without free choice or the ability to develop personal interests.
She spent four to five hours a day on homework. China’s obsession with tests comes “at the expense of producing well-rounded, thoughtful, independent-minded people,” she writes.