For the past few months, as part of the Confucius Institute program with Alfred University, two Chinese teachers have spent two days a week in each of our middle schools, focusing on Chinese culture and traditions. For the rest of the year we're fortunate to have a Chinese-American teacher from the Rochester area working with our world cultures students at the Junior High School and Cicero-North Syracuse High School.
During their visits I listened carefully to what they said about the importance of education in China. During the same period of time, I studied the results of the latest international study that described how students in 65 countries performed in math, science, and reading. The winner in all three fields was Shanghai. Surprisingly, three of the next high scores were in countries with strong Confucian values for education: Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea. On the other hand, the United States placed 15th in reading, 23rd in science, and 31st in math.
As you would imagine, several arguments have been made to explain the relatively poor showing of U.S. students. National Association of Secondary School Principals Executive Director Gerry Tirozzi, who I have known since we were both superintendents in Connecticut in the 1970s, argues that we have to take "a closer look at how the U.S. reading scores on PISA compared with the rest of the world's overlaying on the government's free and reduced lunch for students below the poverty line." He argues that when you take each country's poverty rate into consideration, U.S. students compared much better than their counterparts in other countries.
Shanghai is not a country; it's a city, with some of the best schools in China. But Nicholas Kristof, in the New York Times, writes that China is making real progress, even in "backward rural areas." On a recent visit to a poor community in southern China, he reported that the peasant children were a grade ahead in math compared to his own children who are attending an excellent public school in the New York City area.