“We’ve become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything,” Rendell added. “If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.”
The "doing calculus on the way down" made me laugh. But then there was this interesting piece on NPR today about Chinese education. Basically, the point is that they are great at learning and memorizing facts but not very good at analytic, problem-solving thinking. Even their principals admit this but like many bureaucratic issues, it's recognized but no one knows what to do.
From the piece:
"Developed countries like the U.S. shouldn't be too surprised by these results. They're just one index, one measure that shows off the good points of Shanghai's and China's education system. But the results can't cover up our problems," he says.
Liu is very frank about those problems — the continuing reliance on rote learning, the lack of analysis or critical thinking — and he says the system is in dire need of reform.
"Why don't Chinese students dare to think? Because we insist on telling them everything. We're not getting our kids to go and find things out for themselves," he says.
Mr. Liu, who is a principal in Shanghai, also points out that the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) results were for Shanghai students who were the only Chinese students to take the test. Shanghai is apparently the best city for education in China.
Here's what a student had to say:
Zhang Chi, 17, was one of those students, and she noticed the difference in the way the PISA questions were framed.
"I can't go straight to answer the questions. I must think a while for the question, and give me some time to think," she says.
The trouble is that despite all the talk of educational reform, combining East and West, Chinese and foreign, is, in the end, simply not possible. However well she did in the PISA test, or however much she liked the questions, Zhang has to sit down next summer and take the high school university entrance test — the gaokao — where writing different, creative answers gets you nowhere, and writing the standard answer that you've memorized gets you into a good university.
I believe we have serious issues in this country in public education. The achievement gap is stubbornly hanging in there, the issue that girls are doing better and boys falling behind, uneven resources and opportunities and social promotion when students truly are not ready are some of the issues. I get annoyed when I hear ed reformers say that if you don't want bold change, you support the status quo. Not true. But as I have said before, I want MY district to examine all the avenues and make a decision about what we will try based on our district, our resources and our situation.
The "Sputnik" moment that some have called the U.S. results versus international students may not be as serious as some say. Not to brush off serious issues but we do need to realize the context of these international tests. The U.S. is a huge country with more race and cultures than almost any other place on earth. We don't have, educationally, one rote way to do things. When you have China skewing their results by only testing one city, then you have to take a step back and ask what would happen if you only had American students in one district/city take the PISA.
The question is how to marry the seriousness with which the Chinese take education with the U.S. spirit of fresh thinking. (More on this in another thread.)