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Catching Up or Leading the Way?

September 30, 2009

I recently was given a book called “Catching Up or Leading the Way – American Education in the Age of Globalization” by Dr.Young Zhao. I have not had a chance to get too deep into it, but the preface presents some interesting thoughts.  Here is one passage –

This book is about education in America but it began as a book about education in China. My original intention was to write about the mammoth challenges China faces in education to curb America’s surging enthusiasm for China’s education practices that seem to be an object of admiration, a model of excellence, or a source of competitive students who will threaten America’s future. I was going to write about China’s efforts to decentralize curriculum and textbooks, diversify assessment and testing, and encourage local autonomy and innovations in order to cultivate creativity and well-rounded talents. I was also going to write about China’s repeated failures and unwavering desire to undo the damages of testing and standardization. But while I was going through the reform policies, scholarly writings, and online discussion forums and blogs about education in China, I realized that what China wants is what America is eager to throw away-an education that respects individual talents, supports divergent thinking, tolerates deviation, and encourages creativity; a system in which the government does not dictate what students learn or how teachers teach; and culture that does not rank or judge the success of a school, a teacher, or a child based on only test scores in a few subjects determined by the government.

The book claims to explain why the perceived weaknesses of American education are actually its strengths.  I am looking forward to reading the rest of the book.  On a side note, Dr. Zhao is a Professor right up the road at Michigan State University and is speaking in Dexter on November 12th as part of their Champion Learning Speaker Series.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. SHSAlum permalink
    October 10, 2009 3:27 pm

    This is a very interesting thought. I graduated from SHS last year with a 35 ACT, 3.79 GPA, and 5 on the AP Calc BC exam, along with all the good extracurricular stuff, yet was turned down by the University of Michigan LSA presumably because I had three English credits–not their preferred four.

  2. October 10, 2009 6:24 pm

    First off – that is UM’s loss. Your scores are outstanding – if they are so rigid as to not consider the whole picture – then again, they lose.

    Secondly, as Dr. Zhao suggests, your breadth of course work and experiences will help you be successful far beyond the undergrad institution you attend.

  3. October 11, 2009 12:58 pm

    Many of the detractors of American public education base their criticism on faulty assumptions and shoddy research. The result is a major focus on testing and curtailing the ability to provide a well rounded curriculum. Luckily, we are still able to offer the students a wide array of course selections.

  4. Dave permalink
    October 13, 2009 11:30 am

    I found the comments of the recent SHS grad to be very interesting. What many people may not realize is that one of the reasons why this person did not get into U of M may have been because this person took AP classes at SHS on a 4.0 scale.

    This person competed against individuals from schools of the same academic standards as SHS and who got the benefit of a weighted grade scale for Honors and AP classes.

    Research done at the University of Maine in 2000 showed that when admissions counselors compared the transcript of the same applicant, once using a weighted grade scale and then submitting the transcript without a weighted scale, the counselor selected the applicant with the weighted scale transcript over the same individual without a weighted scale transcript 76% of the time.

    In our struggling community, the cost of attending college is now a challenge for many families. Scholarships are based on academic performance, and these scholorships are many times awarded to those individuals with the highest grade point average. Once again, those students from weighted scale programs, receive a higher percentage of scholarships than those from non-weighted programs.

    Lastly, the majority of High Schools in the United States today that have Honors and AP programs, use weighted grade scales. Saline is in the minority of High Schools that don’t.

    Seems like our community is not being served well by the current grading practices at SHS.

    Our administration has debated this topic since at least 2002, and in August they finally agreed to a survey of High School parents.

    This result shows that over 81% of the respondents support a weighted grade scale for AP and Honors classes. (Note this survey had a 50% response rate of all SHS parents).

    Seems like all the data supports a move to a weighted grade scale for Honors and AP classes. Seems like now is the time for our School Administration to make this change.

    This change supports our students in their interest to attend the college of their choice, a change that can reduce the cost of college for their parents, and this change will make the grading practices at SHS to be the same as is the practice at the majority of the High Schools in the United States today.

    I encourage all parents in the community to let your School Administration and your School Board know that now is the time to make this change, a change that helps our children be all that they can be.

  5. Paul Hynek permalink
    October 15, 2009 8:13 am


    There were 313 people who responded to the survey. 266 identified themselves as a “parent/guardian of a high school student”. Since this was a non-scientific survey – lets assume only 1 parent/guardian responded per high school student and also ignore parent/guardians with multiple children in the high school. Assuming a total pool of 1,800 “parent/guardians” and 266 responses we have a 15% response rate. The breakdown for “parent/guardians” was 83% YES and 17% NO and for those who identified themselves as “non-parent/guardians” the breakdown was 66% YES and 34% NO.

    Not knowing all the details, I would suggest that SHSAlum might have fallen into the “diversity” barrel at the University of Michigan. Assuming male and caucasian, he might have been de-selected based on race and gender, which according to some of the information I’ve seen is a bigger factor than test scores and gpa.

  6. Dave permalink
    October 15, 2009 5:00 pm

    With the Supreme Court Case of 2006, gender and race are no longer factors for admissions at the University of Michigan. Today academic success as measured by GPA and test scores drive the admissions process at the University. If you keep track of the admissions work at U of M, socio-economic factors are incorporated in the recruiting process, not in the selection process per se.

    Thanks for the clarification about the percentage of citizens that support a weighted GPA. 83% …seems like a overwhelming majority support the change….even from the non-parent respondents being 66% that is also huge, seems like the community is very supportive of this change, and all the research supports this change as well.

    (As you may know, any sampling greater than 10% is statistically significant, so the results seem very solid as evidence of strong community support for this change.)

    Seems like a change in policy is supported by the community, by the research and by the actual practices of the Universities (by who they select to attend their school and who get scholarships to attend them as well. )

    Seems like it is time for Administration and the School Board to make this change happen, for the interest of our children and our community.

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