Education Letter to the Editor

U.S. Could Learn Lesson From China on PISA

January 25, 2011 1 min read
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To the Editor:

Rather than suggesting that the United States not worry overly much about Shanghai students’ performance on the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, exam (“School Achievement: Let’s Not Worry Too Much About Shanghai,” Jan. 12, 2011), I would emphasize the lessons that the U.S. can learn from China, particularly that hard work and long hours in the classroom are important.

It’s clear in a country in which relatively few students have parents who graduated from college that demographics do not have to dictate destiny. Seventy-six percent of the Shanghai students tested were defined as “resilient.” That is, three-quarters of students among the bottom quarter socioeconomically in Shanghai nevertheless scored in the top quarter of all students throughout the world.

I disagree with the authors’ characterization of the system as Darwinian. In fact, the reason Shanghai was able to achieve superlative results across the board was because historically high-performing schools helped low performers. Top teachers were transferred to those low-performing schools, and high-performing administrations shared strategies with colleagues. This was coaching in which the rise in tide benefited all ships.

Patrick Mattimore

Beijing, China

A version of this article appeared in the January 26, 2011 edition of Education Week as U.S. Could Learn Lesson From China on PISA


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