Scholar Gives His View on Global Competitiveness and School Reform

August 14, 2009 2 min read

There’s a well-produced and intriguing video circulating around some of the listservs featuring Michigan State University education professor Yong Zhao and his views on the nation’s education reform strategy as it relates to global competitiveness. He’s generally critical of the accountability movement, which, he argues, places too much value on test scores at the expense of creativity, innovation, and encouragement of students to follow their passions.

What makes Zhao’s perspective so compelling is that he is a product of the Chinese education system and speaks rather passionately on the right and wrong paths toward American competitiveness.

Zhao, who was raised in a village in China by illiterate parents, was the first in his family to get an education beyond the 3rd grade, and the first in his village to go to college. He sees himself as fortunate for not receiving a great education by Chinese standards. I assume he’s implying that he was not subjected to the stereotypical high-pressure environment that drives students in China to study hard in pursuit of the narrow goal of doing well on placement tests, which determine their educational attainment and the kinds of jobs they can get.

“The American education system now is driven ... to push us toward standardization, centralization, and embodying test scores, which actually I think is moving American education away from the future,” he says in the video, produced by the Mobile Learning Institute and sponsored by the Pearson Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the publishing giant. “The global economy requires niche talents, requires people to become artists, become creators, become musicians, become innovators, become people who are passionate about their work.”

Zhao also argues that the test-based approach is leading to a generation of students who are inclined to be “lower-level, left-brain directed” workers, which is quite the opposite of the stated goal of producing a workforce that can solve problems, think critically, and thrive in a high-tech environment.

He also has a recent blog post at ASCD Inservice about the common standards effort, and his concerns about lack of transparency in the process. And his book, Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization, is due out this fall.

Take a look at the video and feel free to weigh in.

UPDATE: One commenter, Liza Dittoe, took me up on my offer to “weigh in.” She says:

His views are comforting, but does that make him right? I saw a debate he did with Bob Compton, creator of the film Two Million Minutes - - back in Sept. Compton says what we need to hear, not what we want to hear.

Good point, I think. I think it’s fair, however, to identify Dittoe as a PR person associated with the “Two Million Minutes” project. But there were many unaffiliated fans, as well as critics, of the film when its was released early last year. You can catch up on EdWeek’s coverage of the project here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.


School & District Management Live Event Education Week Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum Opinion Eight Ways to Teach With Primary Sources
Four educators share ways they use primary sources with students, including a strategy called "Zoom."
13 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Curriculum The Dr. Seuss Controversy: What Educators Need to Know
The business that manages Dr. Seuss' work and legacy will cease publishing six books due to racist stereotypes and offensive content.
5 min read
A copy of the book "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," by Dr. Seuss, rests in a chair on March 1, 2021, in Walpole, Mass. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author and illustrator's legacy, announced on his birthday, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, that it would cease publication of several children's titles including "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street" and "If I Ran the Zoo," because of insensitive and racist imagery.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced it would cease publication of several of the author's children's titles because of insensitive and racist imagery.
Steven Senne/AP
Curriculum Opinion The Overlooked Support Teachers Are Missing: A Coherent Curriculum
Here’s the research on how districts can improve instructional systems—which was already a challenge in the best of times.
Morgan Polikoff, Elaine Wang & Julia Kaufman
5 min read
A team of people work together to build a block structure.
Imam Fathoni/iStock<br/>
Curriculum Leader To Learn From Taking an Unapologetic Approach to Curriculum Overhaul
An academic leader at a charter school has overhauled curriculum—and proved that instructional rigor and anti-racism can co-exist.
11 min read
Danielle Kelsick, Chief Academic Officer for the Environmental Charter Schools in Redondo Beach, Calif.
Danielle Kelsick, Chief Academic Officer for the Environmental Charter Schools in Redondo Beach, Calif.
Nick Agro for Education Week