Public schools

Common Core Will Make Schools in U.S. More Like China and That's Not a Good Thing


Chinese students
Changmaszeto / Wikimedia Commons

One of the supposed selling points of the Common Core standards is that they are "internationally benchmarked" in order to make the U.S. education system more competitive with better systems in other countries. Implement Common Core, and U.S. students will catch up to Chinese students in no time—or so proponents of national standards claim.

Even if that's true, it may not be a good thing. The New York Times recently published a fascinating interview with Yong Zhao, a professor of education at the University of Oregon. Zhao was born in China; unlike many American intellectuals, he does not think U.S. schools should try to emulate China.

"If the United States and the rest of the West are concerned about being overtaken by China, the best solution is to avoid becoming China," he said.

Chinese schools stamp out individuality and make kids spend all their time preparing for exams that are focused on "narrow intelligence." This produces fewer creative and entrepreneurial people, which is precisely what the authoritarian national government of China wants, according to Zhao.

Zhao warned that the kind of standardization offered by Common Core is a danger to a free culture and a free economy. Relevant excerpts from the interview below:

Q. You have said that traditional Chinese education actively "harms" children. How?

A. It basically ignores children's uniqueness, interests and passion, which results in homogenization. It forces them to spend almost all the time preparing for tests, leaving little time for social and physical activities. It also places them under tremendous stress through intense competition, which can damage their confidence and lowers their self-esteem.

Q. Is the United States becoming like China in education? How?

A. The U.S. has certainly become more like China in recent years. The No Child Left Behind Act has increased the stakes and usage of standardized testing. President Obama's Race to the Top and other initiatives continue to push testing into schools and classrooms by associating test scores with teacher evaluation. The Common Core State Standards Initiative has been pushed to many states, creating de facto national standards in math and English language arts. So American education today has become more centralized, standardized and test-driven, with an increasingly narrow educational experience, which characterizes Chinese education.

Q. Will this damage America?

A. I believe so. Because a narrow education experience that is centrally dictated, uniformly programmed and constantly monitored by standardized tests is unlikely to value individual talents, respect students' interest and passion, cultivate creativity or entrepreneurial thinking, or foster the development of noncognitive capacities. But it is the diversity of talents, passion-driven creativity and entrepreneurship, and social-emotional well-being of individuals that are needed for the future economy.

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  1. Ideas like this derive from the fallacious belief that trade between nations is a competition. If the U.S. has a “trade deficit” with China, then the nation of China is “winning” the “trade war” with the U.S. Therefore, we need to make sure we create a bevy of high-skilled and productive workers in order to “compete” with China. To create high skilled workers, we need to make sure our students are as well-educated as our “competition”. I would continue, but I just used my last quotation mark.

    1. But, but, Murica!!!

      *screeches like a bald eagle and flaps arms wildly*

  2. Have better educated Chinese produced a better China?

    1. *I wuz publik scoold.

    2. Ever since Corporate spies stole noodle-making and porcelain-producing technologies from them, they’ve been on a downhill slide.

  3. These comparisons to India and China are such a joke. In the US, pretty much every kid between 5-18 is attending school. In India and China only the elite kids are enrolled and attending school.
    The US would look great on benchmarks too if it could remove all the C and below students from the data

    1. The US would look great on benchmarks too if it could remove all the C and below students from the data

      The US already does quite well:
      PISA Reading
      PISA Math

      The idea that “US schools suck” is completely bogus since US students come out quite well in international comparisons; it’s just that US schools cost too much (about 2X that of most countries).

  4. Common Core is 99% correct.

    1. Mao: 70%. That’s the Chinese consensus as of 2011.

  5. Until we can eliminate Common Core and for that matter, public education, it’s up to the parents and grand-parents to supplement a child’s education.

    I’ve started a tradition at my house when the grand kids come to visit. When dinner is finished, I drag out my huge book about minerals, plants and animals. I ask a question and they try to answer? each trying to yell the answer before the others.

    I also encourage them to explore and experiment. Use tools and do research.

    We can’t just drop the kids off at government schools and then complain.

  6. A photo taken in a Hong Kong primary school is not the best illustration – Hong Kong has an education system different from mainland China, modeled on the UK’s.

  7. “It basically ignores children’s uniqueness, interests and passion, which results in homogenization”

    Whatever, hippie.

    Learning to read and do math is not about kids’ “uniqueness, interests and passion”.

    It’s about … not being illiterate and innumerate.

    (By all means, abolish compulsory state schooling!

    But don’t give me crap about protecting little Jimmy and Jane’s Precious Sunflower Uniqueness when you’re doing it.

    Schools now barely, in many cases, manage semi-literate innumeracy. Complain about that, not icky “testing”. Or oppose the entire project’s central, compulsory nature on principle.

    I can get 100% behind either of those. Not “testing is icky and doesn’t Fulfill Every Kid’s Unique Potential” and other pointless bull.)

    1. Common Core is not all bad. The math portion focuses on a subject until the kids actually learn it. In my day I think children had an easier time learning having come from a more analog world. Modern children are very easily bored/distracted and benefit from the more subject-intense structure.

  8. US schools beat all other schools as it is. Do we really need to gild the lily?

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