Curriculum

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 - http://2mminutes.com/ - back in Sept. Compton says what we need to hear, not what we want to hear. http://bit.ly/ONowc

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.

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