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on March 11, 2012 at 9:16:57 pm

As part of our Thought Leader series, ECOSYS is providing a discussion forum on thinkers with important K12 perspectives.


YONG ZHAO is Chair and Associate Dean of the College of Education at the University of Oregon.  He is outspoken in his concerns about education in America, and brings his intimate knowledge of the Chinese education system to drive interesting and important comparisons about K12 in the West.


His recent book is Catching Up or Leading the Way (2009).

Zhao's blog is at ZhaoLearning.com



Additional articles will be posted HERE, as they are offered.


CHAT OUTLINE Scheduled for 3/11 9p EST, following this outline, provided by our own Gregg Miller, who recently had a chance to see Yong Zhao speak in Alberta, CN.


  • Q1 We are trying to be like China, they are trying to be like us. What is happening here? 
    • China seeking US innovation model, US seeking China's replication model
    • both seeking what the other has excelled at 
    • US long struggling w/ scale issues., now sees China as usable model
    • At what price? possible loss of our innovation edge 
  • Q2 Why does N.America have more patents, discoveries & Nobel laureates than anywhere else?
    • US focus (historically) on innovation; creative & critical thinking elements; Zhao presented significant stats to back this up
  • Q3 Lack of standards places value on individual contributions. Discuss diversity aspect.
    • Standards and standardization very different 
    • Zhao emphasizes different ways of knowing, being, and speaking
    • Ed curricula & standardization should avoid false duality (either/or) and reliance on cause/effect models
    • Lack of standardization creates space for this; standardization can crowd it out 
  • Q4 Before NCLB, curriculum valued whole child via a decentralized model. What has been lost?
    • time, space and support produce different result than "high stakes" 
    • NCLB has good elements, but it's not helpful to use tests to measure it 


  • Q5 (NEW) Possibilities & Vectors. Where can we take these ideas? What is actionable in US/Western Edu? 



We'll add the ZHAO transcript here (printed to PDF from chrome) at end of session.

Please RT and/or Favorite additional tweets for anything we missed here.  We can come back to ZHAO again. 


What is Ecosys?

It's a conversation about change in our social ecosystems, currently focused on K12 Education.  Here's more on our framing and our wiki frontpage brightspots topics



Quotes from Catching Up or Leading the Way:

  • "The so-called achievement gaps are a result of the resource gaps, a problem that can't be solved by simply holding schools and teachers more accountable and giving the children more tests." (p.14)
  • "Being able to reduce the quality of education to some kind of score that allows comparison across different states appeals to the public in a simplistic fashion. It is misleading, but immensely popular." (p.33)
  • "...like the missle-gap, the so-called learning gap is a myth. The fear has been founded on misinformation and misperceptions. The road to authoritarianism has been built on incorrect assumptions and politics. In Chapter 3 I show that what have been considered the weakness of American education are precisely its strengths and that many countries in the world are working hard to emulate it. I also explain how reform proponents and concerned business executives misjudged, like the politicians before them, what really matters for an education system and what really counts as educational excellence." (p.40)
  • "To a much greater degree than others in the world, Americans have espoused the belief of Albert Einstein that "all that is valuable in human society depends on the opportunity for development accorded to the individual." (p 47)
  • "The current education reformers in the US seem to have made a choice, albeit a wrong one, in my opinion. The reformers have chosen test scores in a limited number of subject areas (the core academics) over diversity, individual interests, creativity, and the risk-taking spirit that has helped sustain a strong economy and society in the United States." (p. 59)
  • After briefly describing education in China, South Korea and Singapore, "Why are the Asian countries... eager to abandon their education tradition, which seems to have resulted in high test scores and academic excellence, and instead, learn from America? The answer is simple: because they know very well the damage that results from standardization and high-stakes testing." (p. 63)
  • "The 'high scores but low ability' phenomenon in China suggests something that we are unwilling to admit- namely that education that is oriented solely to preparing students to achieve high scores on tests can be harmful to both individuals and the nation it is supposed to serve." (p. 85)  
  • "As a social institution, education has been mostly a local entity, funded with local or national taxes, serving the purpose of the local community or nation, preparing workers for the local economy, and passing on local values.... Education, the traditionally local social institution, thus faces a number of significant challenges in preparing children to live in the global society." (p. 110)
  • "To meet these challenges, we need to transform our thinking about education. It may still be locally funded and controlled, but we must think globally in terms of what knowledge and skills our children will need so that they can exercise their inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a globalized world." (p. 113)
  • "To meet the challenges of a new era, American education needs to be more American, instead of more like education in other countries. The traditional strengths of American education- respect for individual talents and differences, a broad curriculum oriented to educating the whole child, and a decentralized system that embraces diversity— should be oriented to the future instead of the past or present. And as such, the changes, I suggest, should include expanding the definition of success, personalizing education, and viewing schools as global enterprises." (p. 182)
  • "Rather than holding schools accountable for raising test scores, which is partly beyond the control of schools and teachers, we can hold schools accountable for ensuring that all students have the same high-quality educational opportunities." (p. 184)
  • "...Education, to slightly modify John Dewey, is not [only] a preparation for life; education is [also] life itself. Furthermore, education is about helping each and every child realize his or her potential, not molding them into economic working beings for a state." (p. 202)



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