Why admiring Chinese test scores might hurt U.S. schools

Sep 15, 2014 by

Jay Mathews – I have spent much of my life studying China and the countries near it. Just ask and I’ll show you my master’s degree in East Asian regional studies, and my five years of Washington Post articles from Hong Kong and Beijing. So it’s depressing to realize what I learned about the cultural advantage Asians have over us Americans — particularly in the classroom — might be wrong.

Like many China watchers, I have thought that Asian students do better than American students because they believe that hard work and respect for teachers is the key to learning. Many Asian kids say to themselves: If I do what the teacher says, I can succeed. Many American kids say: I’m not so smart, so why bother?

Andreas Schleicher, who directs the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, cites data buttressing this view. Most French students say their course material is too hard or the teachers too dull, he says, while students in Shanghai say “they will succeed if they try hard and they trust their teachers to help them succeed.” American students, ranked 36th on the PISA math exam in 2012, feel about the same as the French, who ranked 25th. The Shanghai students, who instead were working hard for their revered teachers, ranked No. 1.

But a new book by University of Oregon education scholar Yong Zhao shows that Chinese respect for teachers does not explain why Chinese students do better on the exams. Some of the highest-scoring participants — Shanghai, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taipei and Vietnam — are the least likely to blame teachers for doing poorly, but some of the worst performers — Kazakhstan, Albania and Malaysia — and Russia, an average performer, also are low on the blame-the-teacher scale. Some of the students most likely to blame teachers come from countries with top PISA scores, including Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Germany.

via Why admiring Chinese test scores might hurt U.S. schools – The Washington Post.

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