Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Chinese Really Are Beating Us

The leading scare tactic used by our elected representatives and corporatists who support the kind of drill and kill educational reform exemplified by high stakes standardized testing and curricula, longer school days, more homework, larger classes, and burger-flipper teachers is the bizarre notion that The Chinese are beating us!  It's fear-mongering based almost exclusively on standardized tests administered by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test that purports to compare the educational achievements of 15-year-olds in math, reading, and science, from some 65 nations. 

Chinese 15-year-olds have achieved the top marks over the last couple testing cycles, while American kids have produced middling results. The Bill Gates-lead "reformers" have latched onto this, especially when it comes to math scores, to launch into full-on Shock Doctrine mode, attempting to evoke Cold War style xenophobic, commie-behind-every-tree competitiveness to grease their corporate take-over of public schools

Of course, as I've written before, the Chinese themselves, including parents, students, and even the government, are not as impressed with their "achievement" as we seem to be, coming as it does at the high cost of students who are stressed out and depressed over lives crammed with homework, rote drilling, and test prep. Indeed, as Yong Zhao, one of our nation's leading experts on the Chinese educational system, is reporting, China is considering a complete withdrawal from PISA testing.

"Shanghai does not need so-called #1 schools," said Yi Hougin, a high level official of Shanghai Education Commission. "What it needs are schools that follow sound education principles, respect principles of students' physical and psychological development, and lay a solid foundation for students' lifelong development."

Meanwhile, the other PISA superstars, the 15-year-olds of Finland, do not attend the kind of pressure-cooker schools bemoaned by China and aspired to by the US. While Finland's schools largely eschew high stakes testing, have little homework, design curricula based upon the developmental needs of children, and have well-paid, highly-respected teachers, our political and business elite have cast their lot with the romanticized misery of China's authoritarian model, creating illusory "achievement" based upon rote learning and memorization, that can be "sold" to the electorate and the world with, "We're #1! We're #1!" which is apparently America's true motto.

Education is not a competition and comparing nations as diverse as China, Finland, and the US, based upon the test-taking abilities of 15-year-olds, is ludicrous on its face. And China now appears to be learning what Finland already knows:

The new evaluation system deemphasizes the significance of test scores . . . The new evaluation system will measure student motivation and engagement, student-teacher relationship, and physical fitness.

Oh no! How can we compete with that? Now the Chinese really will be beating us.

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