U.S. Could Learn Lesson From China on PISA

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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

Vol. 30, Issue 18, Page 24

Published in Print: January 26, 2011, as U.S. Could Learn Lesson From China on PISA
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