“Are We Fixing the Wrong Things?” By Yong Zhao

Will has another post about driving change – so since I’m at it, another blast from the past (May 20, 2006 to be exact):

From “Are We Fixing the Wrong Things?” By Yong Zhao, – University Distinguished Professor of Education and Director of the U.S. – China Center for Research on Educational Excellence, Michigan State University:

“Creativity, and not standardization, may be the driving force behind an effective education system.”

Just 8 years ago 2 school principals and 2 superintendents from Singapore visited my class. They sat in the back while I introduced a math lesson on sorting, data collecting and graphing M&M’s by color (AIMS activity). As the students got to work in groups of four, the visitors in the back came to their feet and started talking and pointing. Next came the video cameras and a few quick clarifying questions. 50 Minutes later the students went home and for the next 90 minutes I was barraged by questions about the observed lesson. Next they wondered how they could get their teachers to teach that way.
I stopped them at one point and told them I was a bit confused by their interest in how things were done at my school. I reminded them that just the week before their country had, for the second year in-a-row, scored the highest in the world on the TIMMS and my school was rated as “Inadequate” per our ITBS scores. Shouldn’t I be asking them questions? They laughed and explained that their students were good at testing but not at being creative. “America invents almost everything,” they explained, all we’re good at is taking those ideas and making them cheaper. We want our students to invent and create like that.”

That’s why this section of Yong’s article smacked me in the face:

“Whereas U.S. schools are now encouraged, even forced, to chase after test scores, China, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan, all named as major competitors, have started education reforms aimed at fostering more creativity and innovative thinking among their citizens. China, for example, has taken drastic measures to reform its curriculum. As the United States raised the status of standardized testing to a record high in 2001 with No Child Left Behind, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued an executive order to significantly minimize the consequences of testing (2002). As the United States pushes for more centralized curriculum standards, China is abandoning its one nation—one syllabus tradition. As the United States moves toward a required program of study for high schools, China is working hard to implement a flexible system with more electives and choices for students. As the United States calls for more homework and more study time, China has launched a battle to reduce such burdens on its students.”

And this:

Sim Wong Hoo, founder and CEO of Singapore-based Creative Technology, pointed out this very fact.

“The advantage is we come from a very conscientious culture. You tell our people what to do, they’ll follow the rules, they’ll do it. The downside is they are not as creative. We fixed that by having a U.S.-based R&D team that’s doing more advanced research.” (Levy, 2005)

I mean is this the best example (or worst, depending on how you look at it) of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence? While the decision makers here suffer horrendous test score envy, the countries we are the most envious of are trying their best to be us. Who’s winning? Certainly not our students.

There are several other articles available on Challenging The Status Quo on the ASCD web site.
I guess we were right: Learning should be messy!

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