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Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization

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At a time when globalization and technology are dramatically altering the world we live in, is education reform in the United States headed down the right path? Are schools emphasizing the knowledge and skills that students need in a global society--or are they actually undermining their strengths by overemphasizing high-stakes testing and standardization? Are education sy At a time when globalization and technology are dramatically altering the world we live in, is education reform in the United States headed down the right path? Are schools emphasizing the knowledge and skills that students need in a global society--or are they actually undermining their strengths by overemphasizing high-stakes testing and standardization? Are education systems in China and other countries really as superior as some people claim? These and other questions are at the heart of author Yong Zhao's thoughtful and informative book. Born and raised in China and now a distinguished professor at Michigan State University, Zhao bases many of his observations on firsthand experience as a student in China and as a parent of children attending school in the United States. His unique perspective leads him to conclude that "American education is at a crossroads" and "we need to change course" to maintain leadership in a rapidly changing world. To make his case, Zhao explains * What's right with American education; * Why much of the criticism of schools in the United States has been misleading and misinformed; * Why China and other nations in Asia are actually reforming their systems to be more like their American counterparts; * How globalization and the "death of distance" are affecting jobs and everyday life; and * How the virtual world is transforming the economic and social landscape in ways far more profound than many people realize. Educators, policymakers, parents, and others interested in preparing students to be productive global citizens will gain a clear understanding of what kinds of knowledge and skills constitute "digital competence" and "global competence," and what schools can--and must--do to meet the challenges and opportunities brought about by globalization and technology.


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At a time when globalization and technology are dramatically altering the world we live in, is education reform in the United States headed down the right path? Are schools emphasizing the knowledge and skills that students need in a global society--or are they actually undermining their strengths by overemphasizing high-stakes testing and standardization? Are education sy At a time when globalization and technology are dramatically altering the world we live in, is education reform in the United States headed down the right path? Are schools emphasizing the knowledge and skills that students need in a global society--or are they actually undermining their strengths by overemphasizing high-stakes testing and standardization? Are education systems in China and other countries really as superior as some people claim? These and other questions are at the heart of author Yong Zhao's thoughtful and informative book. Born and raised in China and now a distinguished professor at Michigan State University, Zhao bases many of his observations on firsthand experience as a student in China and as a parent of children attending school in the United States. His unique perspective leads him to conclude that "American education is at a crossroads" and "we need to change course" to maintain leadership in a rapidly changing world. To make his case, Zhao explains * What's right with American education; * Why much of the criticism of schools in the United States has been misleading and misinformed; * Why China and other nations in Asia are actually reforming their systems to be more like their American counterparts; * How globalization and the "death of distance" are affecting jobs and everyday life; and * How the virtual world is transforming the economic and social landscape in ways far more profound than many people realize. Educators, policymakers, parents, and others interested in preparing students to be productive global citizens will gain a clear understanding of what kinds of knowledge and skills constitute "digital competence" and "global competence," and what schools can--and must--do to meet the challenges and opportunities brought about by globalization and technology.

30 review for Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization

  1. 5 out of 5

    Teacherhuman

    Zhao says "...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..." In the end, the author tells us American educati Zhao says "...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..." In the end, the author tells us American education is at a crossroads. I fear we are choosing the path which he warns will destroy our strengths--instead of building on the strength of our innovation and creativity. From the perspective of one teacher who is all about rigor and relevance, my students walk out of my classroom with the ability to THINK in ways that no standardized test will ever be able to measure. This book is indeed a must read for anyone with a hand (or foot, or big toe) in education. I cannot believe I only just got around to reading it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    amyextradot

    Okay, I'm really starting this on Sunday, because that's when my BIL is bringing it to me. It's for class, but I'm really interested to hear what this guy has to say about the downsides of the Chinese education system, since the school board, super, and politicians are bemoaning the fact that we suck and China rocks. This was a pretty amazing read...it solidified in my mind that "my" way of teaching (and that of, well, pretty much all of my teacher-friends) is the right way, and the conservative Okay, I'm really starting this on Sunday, because that's when my BIL is bringing it to me. It's for class, but I'm really interested to hear what this guy has to say about the downsides of the Chinese education system, since the school board, super, and politicians are bemoaning the fact that we suck and China rocks. This was a pretty amazing read...it solidified in my mind that "my" way of teaching (and that of, well, pretty much all of my teacher-friends) is the right way, and the conservative-business-government-type peoples need to stay the hell out of education.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dr.Given

    A sensible and forward thinking look at education in the US and in other countries. Puts all the rhetoric about what's wrong with American schools into perspective and offers a vision of how to expand what we already do well in order to prepare students for a different world.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nasir ibn James

    This book is written for both educators and policy makers in an attempt to dispel the common belief that American education is in a crisis and that American jobs are at risk. In a time when the nation has turned its attention to testing and accountability, Zhao provides a fresh perspective and some new ideas to the dialogue. While it is true that globalization and technology have led to some unique challenges in education, the move towards increasing math and reading to the exclusion of other cou This book is written for both educators and policy makers in an attempt to dispel the common belief that American education is in a crisis and that American jobs are at risk. In a time when the nation has turned its attention to testing and accountability, Zhao provides a fresh perspective and some new ideas to the dialogue. While it is true that globalization and technology have led to some unique challenges in education, the move towards increasing math and reading to the exclusion of other courses is misdirection. Zhao states, “We must think globally in terms of what knowledge and skills our children will need so they can exercise their inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the globalized world” (p. 113). Zhao’s major push is for what he calls “talent diversity” in which the individual talents of students are explored and developed. Zhao says that there are really three benefits to such and approach: Different talents complement each other. Talent diversity breeds innovation and prepares societies for change. An increase in entrepreneurs and innovators is what Zhao thinks is really needed to move our great nation back on top. He says, “In the new era, we need more diverse talents rather than standardized laborers, more creative individuals rather than homogenized test takers, and more entrepreneurs rather than obedient employees” (p. 181). Thus, leaders need to be harnessing the diversity of talents that their students have. This is what will really benefit them in the coming years when jobs become increasingly competitive. Until recently, I’d only been reading books that dealt with the problems in the American education system. Authors like Diane Ravitch and reports like ANAR have created in me a slight detest towards the American education system. Thus, it was wonderful to hear a differing, yet intelligent take on this country’s system of schooling. Perhaps Zhao hopes to just inspire others to action to reverse such reforms as NCLB, which have led us down a dark path. It does, however, provide an optimistic outlook on the future of education. We can make a difference if we move towards more personalized education instead of the current trend of mandated sanctions based upon arbitrary testing. Personalized education and talent diversity are a means to renewing the spirit of innovation that made America into one of the greatest nations and means to putting America back on top. I would recommend that all educators read Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization by Yong Zhao in order to fully understand the ideas that he presented and hopefully garner some inspiration and optimism from his words.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    Excellent book that compares the history and current status of the American and Chinese education systems in a truly fascinating way. It was very interesting to read about how school reforms got started, the misinformation they were based on, and the inertia of the system that has brought us to our current educational predicament. What we need to be developing isn't better test takers, but global citizens that are prepared to be adaptable and creative in order to find their place in an increasin Excellent book that compares the history and current status of the American and Chinese education systems in a truly fascinating way. It was very interesting to read about how school reforms got started, the misinformation they were based on, and the inertia of the system that has brought us to our current educational predicament. What we need to be developing isn't better test takers, but global citizens that are prepared to be adaptable and creative in order to find their place in an increasingly interconnected world.

  6. 4 out of 5

    James (JD) Dittes

    Yong Zhao doesn't quite 'bestride the world like a colossus,' but for teachers wanting to add global perspective to their experience, his is an important perspective to consider. With one foot in Asia--and a deep understanding of that region's test-driven success--and one foot in America as an educational researcher and teaching instructor at the University of Oregon, Zhao has a lot to say about the future of education on both continents and specific reforms that are under way. Zhao doesn't pay a Yong Zhao doesn't quite 'bestride the world like a colossus,' but for teachers wanting to add global perspective to their experience, his is an important perspective to consider. With one foot in Asia--and a deep understanding of that region's test-driven success--and one foot in America as an educational researcher and teaching instructor at the University of Oregon, Zhao has a lot to say about the future of education on both continents and specific reforms that are under way. Zhao doesn't pay a lot of heed to Asian test-tigers like China and South Korea. While he thoroughly digests 30 years of American hues and cries about 'falling behind' and test failure, he points out that American knowledge and innovation still leads the test-driven countries by a healthy margin. He chalks this up to the deep respect for creativity and individualized learning in the American education system. Kids here don't necessarily have to figure things out by 9th grade. Many of our most innovative minds are late-bloomers, while studies of China's top 10% (a high mark of pride there) have shown many to flame out despite the admission to the finest universities that their test scores and achievements brought them. Reading this book in 2015, though, I did feel that the book was dated because of the tremendous changes that have come in since Race to the Top. Zhao includes an afterword questioning Common Core and one-size-fits-all education. As a proponent of CCSS myself, I appreciate Zhao's perspective, and I definitely want to find a way to balance rigor in the core subjects with broader opportunities to keep music, arts, technology in schools where students can find them and learn to love them.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Claudia

    This was a very thoughtful argument for the 'old' American education system -- the one that celebrates talent shows, even if the kids participating have minimal talent. The one that applauds diversity and nurtures creativity. This sounds a lot like the education I received years ago, when standardized tests where taken in a day, and forgotten. When teachers taught us, knew us. When high school was a chance to try out: art, music. Sciences. Languages. We could see what we liked, what we had an aff This was a very thoughtful argument for the 'old' American education system -- the one that celebrates talent shows, even if the kids participating have minimal talent. The one that applauds diversity and nurtures creativity. This sounds a lot like the education I received years ago, when standardized tests where taken in a day, and forgotten. When teachers taught us, knew us. When high school was a chance to try out: art, music. Sciences. Languages. We could see what we liked, what we had an affinity for. And yet, Zhao is mindful of the flat world, the role of technology and the digital realities of the times. He makes a strong argument for American schools to stop trying to 'catch up' with the countries whose kids top out the tests...in fact, he shows how those countries are trying to find a way to incorporate the creativity and individualism American schools are famous for. Instead of catching up, we should continue to lead the way, nurturing strong individuals who are ready to lead the world. "American education is at a crossroads. Two paths lie in front of us: one in which we destroy our strengths in order to catch up with others on test scores, and one in which we build on our strengths so we can keep the lead in innovation and creativity. The current push for more standardization, centralization, high-stakes testing, and test-based accountability is rushing us down the first path, while what will truly keep America strong and Americans prosperous should be the latter, the one that cherishes individual talents, cultivates creativity, celebrates diversity, and inspires curiosity." What will we do?

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chase Parsley

    Wow, what a refreshing perspective on education in America today! Yong Zhao, who grew up in China and is a professor in the United States, writes a mind-bending account of the dangers of increased "accountability", standards, and all of the other magic bullets associated with the current education reform movement. Despite honest intentions, it is an outrage what the education reform movement is doing today. Some of my favorite points include: how test scores really do not matter when analyzed in Wow, what a refreshing perspective on education in America today! Yong Zhao, who grew up in China and is a professor in the United States, writes a mind-bending account of the dangers of increased "accountability", standards, and all of the other magic bullets associated with the current education reform movement. Despite honest intentions, it is an outrage what the education reform movement is doing today. Some of my favorite points include: how test scores really do not matter when analyzed in context of economic and cultural strength, how we need to provide many more options for students so they can capitalize on their strengths (not just force students to learn math, reading, and nothing else), how the American school system, at its best, encourages creativity, support, and care unlike China, how our current system's structure needs more technological training (entire classes and equipment, not band-aid fixes in core classes), the importance of cultural competence, and more. Amazingly, countries in Asia are starting to realize these crucial points while the United States foolishly is falling towards to Asian Tiger Mom model, which is great for making factory workers but little else. In summary, this book ought to required reading for anyone involved in the politics of education. Yong brilliantly articulated much of the frustration I have felt about education reform, and I applaud him. It is time to stop squaring the circle for our kids. Read this book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Erik Akre

    Current policy in education (in 2011 but continuing currently) will eventually--and especially if strengthened--make the United States less competitive in the global age, because it will squelch the creativity of American children. This he says is now the trait that really matters in an accomplished learner. Zhao looks to China especially in his writing as an example of how testing and standardization have continually turned out a population of good test-takers who are also low-ability and low-f Current policy in education (in 2011 but continuing currently) will eventually--and especially if strengthened--make the United States less competitive in the global age, because it will squelch the creativity of American children. This he says is now the trait that really matters in an accomplished learner. Zhao looks to China especially in his writing as an example of how testing and standardization have continually turned out a population of good test-takers who are also low-ability and low-function, unhappy and far less creative than the graduates in the United States. Zhao impresses upon us just how much globalization is changing, and has changed, the world. He argues that children should be allowed to unfold their unique interests and talents. To him, standardization is the ultimate in myopic education policies. Many children do not excel in left-brain skills, and it appears that right-brain skills will be in higher demand in the new economy of the world. The argument is a compelling one, although not new. Zhao puts a very practical spin on it, addressing the need for the U.S. to compete well globally. Between the lines, though, one can easily see many more benefits to releasing our young learners from the straight-jacket of standardized education.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    This is a important book to read. It got me a bit fired up. The content is timely – education reform and international comparison – and Zhao is particularly qualified to speak to the relative merits of the Chinese vs. American educational systems. He provides a overview of the history of reform in the United States – the “evolution of accountability,” provides a description of each country’s (America/China)education system, discusses the kind of education we need for the future, and provides a t This is a important book to read. It got me a bit fired up. The content is timely – education reform and international comparison – and Zhao is particularly qualified to speak to the relative merits of the Chinese vs. American educational systems. He provides a overview of the history of reform in the United States – the “evolution of accountability,” provides a description of each country’s (America/China)education system, discusses the kind of education we need for the future, and provides a template for how American schools should address these needs. The path we are on, he argues, is not a good one, and I have to agree. Just as we are moving towards national standards and accountability, the Chinese are trying to move away from it - and to emulate more American methods of education which emphasize critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving. Chinese education, he argues, produces engineers who are great test-takers but can't engineer anything. American education, he argues, has produced great innovation and our current efforts at reform threaten to destroy everything that is great about what we do.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Elin

    I just can't bring myself to give 5 stars to non-fiction - I can't imagine I'll ever like it that much. But I did enjoy this and it was a pretty quick easy read with some interesting points. I am very much looking forward to talking to some of my friends who know more about China then I do. I am especially interested in his assertion that standardized testing is what caused China to stop inventing. i.e. they invented paper, gunpowder, etc. and then they introduced the imperial examinations and ki I just can't bring myself to give 5 stars to non-fiction - I can't imagine I'll ever like it that much. But I did enjoy this and it was a pretty quick easy read with some interesting points. I am very much looking forward to talking to some of my friends who know more about China then I do. I am especially interested in his assertion that standardized testing is what caused China to stop inventing. i.e. they invented paper, gunpowder, etc. and then they introduced the imperial examinations and killed creativity - as the test stressed memorization and handwriting - I'm wildly paraphrasing but . . . Zhao is implying that a nationalized curriculum and NCLB tests will do the same to the USA.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    A strong, well-developed argument for changing course in education "reform" in America. Published four years ago, right after Obama was elected, I was surprised to see how prescient the book is in describing the persistence of a wrong-headed, government-sponsored grand theory of how to "fix" education in the U.S: tests, standardization, and meaningless competition. The book would be a great overview for anyone who hasn't been deeply immersed in education policy and change. Yong Zhao's global pers A strong, well-developed argument for changing course in education "reform" in America. Published four years ago, right after Obama was elected, I was surprised to see how prescient the book is in describing the persistence of a wrong-headed, government-sponsored grand theory of how to "fix" education in the U.S: tests, standardization, and meaningless competition. The book would be a great overview for anyone who hasn't been deeply immersed in education policy and change. Yong Zhao's global perspectives--identifying what a truly forward-thinking education would look like--are especially strong, but there are useful chapters describing how we got to where we are. I found the preface a great overview and the final chapter heartbreaking.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sue Lyle

    This is a fascinating read by a Chinese man brought up in china and now an academic in the west. He identifies why china wants to be more like the US and way the US wants to be more like china. His critique with Evidence and personal experience to support his argument claims that america is doing well In education and china is not. It is the US that is producing the critical thinkers, the creative minds, the innovative scientists and entrepreneurs - not china. It is the US that wins the Olympics This is a fascinating read by a Chinese man brought up in china and now an academic in the west. He identifies why china wants to be more like the US and way the US wants to be more like china. His critique with Evidence and personal experience to support his argument claims that america is doing well In education and china is not. It is the US that is producing the critical thinkers, the creative minds, the innovative scientists and entrepreneurs - not china. It is the US that wins the Olympics in Nobel prizes - not china. When my own UK government is bringing Chinese teachers of mathematics here to train our teachers how to do it this book is a wake-up call to recognise that high scores on international tests like PISA is not the best guide to how successful an education system is.

  14. 5 out of 5

    David Rickert

    The beginning part of this book was pretty dry - a bunch of statistics on testing in China and America and where both countries have gone astray in their educational systems. Once Zhao begins to analyze the skills that are needed to thrive in a global economy, it turned into a pretty captivating read. There are a lot of skills that we definitely need to teach kids in order for them to thrive today, and a lot of them deal with being able to navigate the virtual world. One I'd definitely like to r The beginning part of this book was pretty dry - a bunch of statistics on testing in China and America and where both countries have gone astray in their educational systems. Once Zhao begins to analyze the skills that are needed to thrive in a global economy, it turned into a pretty captivating read. There are a lot of skills that we definitely need to teach kids in order for them to thrive today, and a lot of them deal with being able to navigate the virtual world. One I'd definitely like to read again, and a book that gave me some other titles to check out.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    The great part of the book is its accurate critique of the culture of testing and how American schools still excel over others in terms of fostering individuals and creativity, critical thinking. Clear examples of how Chinese and other systems are NOT better and in fact are trying to emulate us to get away from testing. His remedies concentrate on global thinking and aren't as clear as his case against top-down dictating of standards and tests (unless it is a narrow band of standards...)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Zeni

    Zhao only summarizes education reform over the past few decades, and how the current standards movement has decreased our students ability to succeed in a global world. This is contradictory to what public opinion thinks. Most people are under the impression that the United States is behind in education, and that we are not preparing our students. According to Zhao, the opposite is true. If you have ANY interest in education, read this book!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sheila

    I thought Zhao was interesting when he wrote about the fear and anger that surrounds this conversation. I enjoyed his philosophical overview but for me he became too generalized by the middle of the book. I liked the cross-cultural comparison between China and the United States and it helped me to reflect on my own experiences growing up in Ireland. (You'll have to buy me a guinness to get more from me about that!)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    If you are an American educator you really should read this book- it took me a long time to absorb the content but it is a great perspective from a Chinese educated MSU professor on why we may not really want to set up our system to imitate China's. He gives very compelling and rational examples while making his points.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Seth

    Zhao works from the perspective that the goal of education is to ensure that the most potential is realized. The American system has its weaknesses, but probably does not do well to focus on improving test scores. Asian countries with the high test scores narrow their talent pools too early and end up with a less creative, less motivated workforce. An interesting read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Spacek Kim

    Zhao pulls no punches in laying out the type of education system needed in the United States. Educators understand the need to teach to the whole child, however, politically education has shifted to narrow the curriculum to few subjects. Students are doing amazing things and the sooner education enters the digital age, the better able students will be to live in out emerging world.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Irene

    Great book with lots of convincing arguments in favor of un-standardizing and against high-stakes testing. The author's cultural insights into American philosophy is poignant, and I believe he answered a lot of unanswerable questions.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    A must read for anyone concerned with education. It tells how we got into this current mess, and, more importantly, what we can do to get out of it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    This is one of the best books I read on American education moving forward into a global setting.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    Interesting points of view.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    Really interesting insights in this book on the future of education and the current state of U.S. schools vs schools in China.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Obvious ideas including old tricks... multiple intelligences & differentiation. Should be required reading for students studying to be teachers! Obvious ideas including old tricks... multiple intelligences & differentiation. Should be required reading for students studying to be teachers!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Zhi Jian

    A book comparing the pros and cons of US and Asian education systems and the future of education. A good book for all educators teaching in our globalized world.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ali

    I miss reading for pleasure! :(

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Perry

    Every educator should read this!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    Critical look at the impact of standardized testing in American schools. Author takes a very different stance than I thought at the start of the book.

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