progress. A 2007 study found that Massachusetts, which consistently scores higher in math than any other state, ranked below Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan—all of which scored below Shanghai on the PISA. America’s best and brightest students can’t compete with their peers in China or the other aforementioned Asian countries.What is China doing right? According to a 259-page OECD report on the PISA results, schools in China “work their students long hours every day, and the work weeks extend into the weekends.” Because the culture of education in China is centered on competitive examinations in core subjects, Chinese students spend more time than American students studying and less time participating in extracurricular activities like sports.Moreover, China has raised the status of teaching as a profession by making entry into teacher training very selective and by raising teacher pay. These strategies attract the strongest candidates to the teaching profession, which is important because teacher quality significantly impacts student outcomes. In China, teaching is increasingly becoming a prestigious profession and a preferred occupation.That student performance on the PISA and other international assessments is relevant in today’s world was noted by Duncan: “We live in a globally competitive knowledge based economy, and our children today are at a competitive disadvantage with children from other countries. That is absolutely unfair to our children and that puts our country’s long term economic prosperity absolutely at risk.”America’s current public education system is not preparing students to succeed in the increasingly competitive global economy. In America, this will ultimately lead to growing unemployment rates, a decline in Gross Domestic Product, unsustainable levels of national debt, and reduced
military capability.U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently said, “We can’t have a strong military if we have a weak economy.”Three decades ago, China’s education system was far behind that of America’s thanks to the turbulent era of China’s Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1977 when Chinese leader Mao Zedong devalued education. It wasn’t until Deng Xiaoping came to power following Mao Zedong’s death that
education began to become a priority in China. Three decades later, Chinese students are receiving the top international test scores in math, science, and reading.That China could significantly reform its education system within such a relatively short span of time suggests that America could do the same.
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Bill Costello, M.Ed., is a U.S.-based education columnist, blogger, and author of Awaken Your Birdbrain: Using Creativity to Get What You Want. He can be reached at www.makingmindsmatter.com
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