Archived Story

US education is not so bad

Published 11:34am Thursday, October 13, 2011

At a recent education conference, I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Yong Zhao speak about global education.

Yong Zhao grew up in China and is currently presidential chair and associate dean for Global Education, College of Education at the University of Oregon, where he also serves as the director of the Center for Advanced Technology in Education (CATE).

Dr. Zhao’s key message was that the United States should not change their education system because it promotes creativity and confidence.

He presented a series of slides on data to support his claim and to be honest, it was rather refreshing listening to someone who believes in our education system.

He stated, “The USA is a story of bad test takers.” This has been a long-term problem and the U.S. is actually scoring better now then in the 1960s.

Dr. Zhao said he is always concerned when test scores rise dramatically because he wonders what schools gave up in order to concentrate on the testing components. He believes our system is successful in part because we respect individual differences, have faith in every child and give second, third and fourth chances.

In international tests, China is at or near the top and U.S. ranks much lower.

Dr. Zhao questions if the gap really matters. Chinese students can compute well, but they lack confidence. U.S. students do not compute as well, but they are confident they can do the work.

He implied creativity and confidence are key factors in making the USA the world’s number one economic power — three times larger than number two China.

Dr. Zhao stressed diversity of talent, technology, creativity, tolerance and passion, along with being an entrepreneur as a key to economic growth and again believes our education system promotes entrepreneurship.

He is worried about the current level of emphasis on testing in the U.S. through NCLB. In my opinion, there has to be a return to a proper balance of assessments and teaching directed at these tests.

Dr. Zhao referred to the January 12, 2011 Bloomberg Business Week article written by Vivek Wadhwa titled, “U.S. Schools Are Still Ahead — Way Ahead.”

In the article Wadhwa says, “America’s alarm about international rankings of students overlooks some critical components of our education system.”

He feels America generates an inferiority complex about its education system when the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) releases its annual test results.

If the U.S. is not near the top, we start blaming our system for not teaching enough mathematics and science; and we begin worrying about the millions of engineers and scientists China and India graduate.

Vivek Wadhwa states, “The perception is that American children live a relatively easy life and coast their way through school. They don’t do any more homework than they have to; they spend an extraordinary amount of time playing games, socializing on the internet, text-messaging each other; they work part time to pay for their schooling and social habits, and they party a lot.” These stereotypes worry many Americans.

They believe the American education system puts the country at a great disadvantage. But this is far from true.

Wadhwa continues, “The independence and social skills American children develop give them a huge advantage when they join the workforce. They learn to experiment, challenge norms and take risks. “They can think for themselves, and they can innovate. This is why America remains the world leader in innovation; why Chinese and Indians invest their life savings to send their children to expensive U.S. schools when they can.

“India and China are changing, and as the next generations of students become like American ones, they too are beginning to innovate.

So far, their education systems have held them back.”

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