The folly of Common Core proponents’ China envy

“The folly of Common Core proponents’ China envy,” published in the Daily Caller on July 7, 2013

If we don’t emulate China by establishing common nationwide education standards and implementing even more standardized testing, we will fall behind internationally. So goes the argument of Common Core advocates like Michelle Rhee.

“You need to reframe the debate,” Rhee said, speaking to Florida lawmakers in May. “This is about China kicking our butts. Do you want China to kick out butts? No!”

But is it really true that China is “kicking our butts” in education or economic competitiveness?

In 2010, China ranked first in the PISA international standardized test, prompting President Obama to say it is “our generation’s Sputnik moment” and Rhee to say, “We are not going to be competitive in the long run until we fix our public education system.”

But China’s education system is uniquely positioned to produce students who will do well on tests. It’s based on national standards, the knowledge of which is evaluated in a series of nationwide tests. Before entering high school, students take the zhong kao — the high school entrance exam — and before entering college, students study non-stop for a year to take the gao kao — the college entrance exam. Schooling is based heavily on tests and rote memorization.

So it’s no surprise that China did well on PISA.

The important question to ask is, Is China creating a competitive, innovative economy?

China has 19 percent of the world’s population, but in 2011, China only accounted for 9 percent of the world’s share of patent applications. The United States, by contrast, has 4 percent of the world’s population but accounted for 26.7 percent of the world’s patent applications in 2011, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization.

In China, the use of standards has fostered a high-pressure system that kills creativity.

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