Dr. Yong Zhao: Educate Innovators, Not Test-takers!

Dr. Yong Zhao is an internationally-acclaimed education expert and a prolific writer with a widely-reviewed new book, World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students. He is the Presidential Chair of Global Education and Online Learning at the University of Oregon, where he also serves as the Associate Dean for Global Education and Online Learning, the Director of Center for Advanced Technology in Education (CATE), and as a full professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Policy, and Leadership (EMPL).

Dr. Zhao was born in Sichuan Province, China, and raised in a small, impoverished village.  A brilliant student, he graduated with a B.A. in English Language Education from Sichuan Institute of Foreign Languages and taught in China for six years before earning his M.A. and Ph.D. in the USA. With an educational leg in each country (as both student and educator), Zhao is uniquely and profoundly qualified to analyze the current ed-trends both here and abroad. At his recent presentation at Lahser High School in Bloomfield Hills, Zhao pointed out that the new world leader in education was China, according to the results of the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test. Ranking above Finland, Hong Kong and South Korea, China swept all three literacy categories in Reading, Sciences and Math.

Given China’s dedicated fast track toward economic dominance and globalization, it would be expected that China would find its superior PISA ranking to be a point of competitive world-pride.  But Zhao shook his head ‘no’, and asked the audience:

China’s student test scores are number one in the world! So, why isn’t China celebrating? Why didn’t China have a big party?!

Because, Zhao explained, China’s leaders have figured out something the USA seems to have overlooked. In our reformer zeal to test the life out of our students in order to improve national and international test scores, we are testing our students out of real learning. Teachers have little time to inspire when they are ‘teaching to a test’; students miss out on exploration and creative exercises when judged strictly on how well they memorize meaningless material.

Dr. Zhao in front of 2009 PISA test scores. The USA did not rank in the top 10 for any of the 3 literacy categories.

The USA workforce is universally admired for its innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship –all untestable traits. No school test measures EQ [Emotional Intelligence Quotient] or confidence, Zhao reiterated. Our society appreciates and cultivates a broad set of talents, and individuals in the U.S. are encouraged to develop personal success via alternative methods.

We need more creative entrepreneurs who create jobs, not just more employees,” said Dr. Zhao. “We need to create personalized education to enhance our students’ strengths, not more standardized tests to simply fix their deficits.”

China’s leaders did not party over the results of their PISA test scores, because they wanted more: they desperately want their graduates to be more like ours. They want to grow entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and create companies like Google – which is tough to do in a strictly standardized environment. In 2008, the USA accounted for 400,769 patent filings…China accounted for 473 (and 50 % of the China-origin patents were granted to subsidiaries of foreign multinationals).

“Why doesn’t China have great talent?” asked China’s Premier, Wen Jiabao.

A better question for the USA might be “why are we test-standardizing our great talent in order to be more like China?”



WEBSITE Dr. Yong Zhao: Creative, Entrepreneurial, and Global: 21st Century Education

ARTICLE How China is winning the school race 

from Jean MacLeod, Communications/Oakland Schools


Oakland Schools • 2111 Pontiac Lake Road • Waterford, MI 48328-2736 • 248.209.2000

One comment

  1. […] educator who knows why our current obsession with testing is bad for American society. He spoke recently in Michigan, where he explained why we should focus on creativity and innovation, not test scores. […]

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