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Dr. Yong Zhao at SAI 2009

Here are my notes from Dr. Yong Zhao’s presentation, Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization, at the 2009 School Administrators of Iowa (SAI) conference…

  • Dr. Zhao’s book will be out soon from ASCD.
  • Thomas Friedman: “When I was growing up, my parents used to say to me: ‘Finish your dinner — people in China are starving.’ I, by contrast, find myself wanting to say to my daughters: ‘Finish your homework — people in China and India are starving for your job.’”
  • When something bad happens in America, it has to do with education. When something good happens in America, it has to do with some politician.
  • March 24, 1958 article in LIFE magazine comparing Russian students’ work with American students’ was very similar to the rhetoric of 2 Million Minutes.
  • 1983, A Nation at Risk: “a rising tide of mediocrity” and “we are raising a new generation of Americans that is scientifically and technologically illiterate.”
  • Achieve, the College Board, and ACT are writing the upcoming national standards. Ask yourself who stands to benefit from the new standards?
  • 2 Million Minutes: now the ‘enemy’ is China and India. Dr. Zhao grew up in China and is back there almost every month. He disagrees with Bob Compton, the director.
  • The USA continues to be the most economically competitive country in the world. We continue to be the most innovative, as measured by patents issued. And of course we are the most open, democratic.
  • No other country comes close to the US when it comes to exports of intellectual property / knowledge (patents, royalties, copyrights, license fees). China dominates toy exports, not knowledge exports. China is a country built on cheap labor, not knowledge.
  • If the US educational system is so bad, why are other countries (like China) trying to emulate us (see, e.g., China’s 2002 and 2005 curriculum and assessment reforms).
  • Singapore is emphasizing the explicit teaching of critical and creative thinking skills.
  • The correlation between the 1964 First International Math Study test scores (FIMS) and economic output, hourly productivity, quality of life, etc. 40 hours later are all negative. Democracy, creativity, livability all have no relationship or a negative relationship with the FIMS scores.
  • Recommends reading Day of Empire: How HyperPowers Rise to Global Dominance – And Why They Fail, by Amy Chua, and The Rise of the Creative Class, by Richard Florida. Diversity of talents, creativity, entrepeneurship, and passion are what allow nations to thrive.
  • We are busy closing the achievement gap. Asian countries are busy closing the creativity gap.
  • The strengths of American education: school talent shows (value individual talents, inspires passion and responsbility, tolerate deviation, cultivate entrepeneurship) and children are popcorn (some pop early and some pop late; respect individual differences; have faith in every child; second, third, and fourth chances)
  • Creativity is fundamentally to be different. America is a society that tolerates, values, and celebrates difference.
  • We do face new challenges. For example, globalization (i.e., the death of distance). Columbus took about 3 months to get from Spain to the Bahamas. Now it takes 13 hours on airplane. Electronic information, money, voice phone calls, etc. now get there instantly.
  • Global supply chains: corporations can fragment their production and distribute it wherever it makes sense (outsourcing of labor). Products are now made from parts that come from a multitude of different countries.
  • New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce: “Today, Indian engineers make $7,500 a year against $45,000 for an American engineer with the same qualifications. If we succeed in matching the very high levels of mastery of mathematics and science of these Indian engineers – an enormous challenge for this country – why would the world’s employers pay us more than they have to pay the Indians to do their work? They would be willing to do that only if we could offer something that the Chinese and Indians, and others, cannot.”
  • Equalling China’s or India’s performance on standardized tests doesn’t differentiate ourselves, doesn’t allow us to offer what others cannot.
  • Problems in other countries also affect everyone now (e.g., swine flu, poverty, violence, financial meltdowns). We no longer can keep ourselves isolated.
  • Where does the new hope lie? With Madonna and eBay! Many people don’t like Madonna. But across the globe, there are enough who do for her to be successful. Globalization allows us to find the other crazy people across the world who find value in what we offer. eBay allows us to find others outside our local area who will buy our trash. Globalization expands our audiences and allows our skills, talents, products, etc. to find new places that they can thrive. What do you have that others don’t? What can you contribute to other markets? What’s your niche?
  • Societal changes create new job opportunities. Right now, for example, we need people who understand other countries’ cultures, languages, politics, etc.
  • Technology demands new skills (e.g., virtual designers). Virtual “gold farming” is now a $2 billion industry worldwide.
  • The Partnership for the 21st Century Skills framework is too long and complex. Our problem in America is that we keep adding, we never take away.
  • See Jenifer Fox’s
  • We need to take technology and the digital world SERIOUSLY.
  • Every child should have a personalized curriculum. This is happening in other countries (e.g., United Kingdom).
  • We should think of schools as global enterprises, not local entities, and draw on global resources.
  • Never send a man to do a machine’s job. Let people and computers each do what they do best.
  • Slides available at

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