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Topic: Re: Shanghai PISA Scores Not So Good After All?
Replies: 1   Last Post: Jan 9, 2011 9:17 AM

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Anne Watson

Posts: 12
Registered: 4/28/09
Re: Shanghai PISA Scores Not So Good After All?
Posted: Jan 9, 2011 9:17 AM
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I don't have time to paraphrase these two papers, but do recommend them for describing in more detail the effects of two kinds of curriculum, typical US and typical Chinese, on problem-solving strategies. This may shed some light on the results that are the focus of this discussion:

Cai, Jinfa. (1995). A cognitive analysis of U.S. and Chinese students' mathematical performance on

tasks involving computation, simple problem solving, and complex problem solving. (Journal

for Research in Mathematics Education monograph series 7), Reston, VA: National Council of

Teachers of Mathematics.

Cai, Jinfa. ?Mathematical Thinking Involved in U.S. and Chinese Students' Solving Process-

Constrained and Process-Open Problems.? Mathematical Thinking and Learning: An

International Journal, 2 (2000): 309-340.

From: Post-calculus mathematics education [MATHEDU@JISCMAIL.AC.UK] On Behalf Of Victor Steinbok [victor.steinbok@VERIZON.NET]
Sent: 09 January 2011 08:35
Subject: Re: Shanghai PISA Scores Not So Good After All?

And if you believe all that I got a nice bridge to sell you... Experts on China have been warning for years that Chinese IP system is a fraud from the top down. There have been many recent stories claiming (or demonstrating directly) that what passes for "innovation" in China is largely duplication of others' technology (something that was happening in Japan 40-50 years ago--until the business culture changed). Patents have been issued for essentially making a close copy of a product that had been contracted to a Chinese company for cheap production. And other countries are not likely to recognize validity of Chinese patents any time soon--at least, not as easily as they might for each other.

Of course, if you believe what you read in WSJ about education, you are already used to being gullible.

Yes, sure, there are Chinese teacher, academics and education officials who do believe that the best way to compete in the global economy is innovation and competition. But they are going up against thousands of years of Chinese culture that bet otherwise. And the best and brightest tend to leave anyway.

I also agree with Jon Groves's comments concerning questionable correlation between high scores and actual mathematical achievement or attainment. The problem is that there is a contaminated pool--those who are likely to do well, creatively or otherwise, tend to get high scores, but there are also many who get high scores that do not end up doing well in advanced math courses or just end up being mediocre all-around students, regurgitating what they hear from instructors.


Jan 9, 2011 06:13:53 AM, alexandre.borovik@MANCHESTER.AC.UK wrote:
The keen interest of Chinese educators to producing "innovators", not just "competent mediocracy" (I quote The Wall Street Journal article "The Test Chinese Schools Still Fail" by Jiang Xueqin referred to by Jonathan Grove) is a reflection of wider ranging state plans for a dramatic increase in the generation of intellectual property (conveniently measured in numbers of patent applications, which have to double by 2015).

See a general discussion of this policy in the NYT:

When Innovation, Too, Is Made in China, by STEVE LOHR
Published: January 1, 2011,

and two much more telling documents:

(2) Translation of National Patent Development Strategy (2011-2020),


(3) Outline of the National Intellectual Property Strategy (Issued by the State Council of the People's Republic of China on June 5, 2008)

These state documents are really impressive in their scope and drive.

Professor Alexandre Borovik *

From: Post-calculus mathematics education [MATHEDU@JISCMAIL.AC.UK] on behalf of Jonathan Groves [JGroves@KAPLAN.EDU]
Sent: 09 January 2011 01:57
Subject: Shanghai PISA Scores Not So Good After All?

Dear All,

The Wall Street Journal article "The Test Chinese Schools Still Fail"
by Jiang Xueqin can be found at the link

The writer argues that Shanghai's performance, though very strong on
the PISA, might not be so good after all. The students are basically
robots who can regurgitate all kinds of knowledge but cannot do
anything with it. The following passage mentions some complaints
from the Chinese government, Chinese educators, and Chinese parents:

"So China has no problem producing mid-level accountants, computer
programmers and technocrats. But what about the entrepreneurs and
innovators needed to run a 21st century global economy? China's most
promising students still must go abroad to develop their managerial
drive and creativity, and there they have to unlearn the test-centric
approach to knowledge that was drilled into them.

"The failings of a rote-memorization system are well-known: lack of
social and practical skills, absence of self-discipline and imagination,
loss of curiosity and passion for learning. Chinese students burn
themselves out testing into university, where many of them spend their
time playing World of Warcraft.

"Both multinationals and Chinese companies have the same complaints
about China's university graduates: They cannot work independently,
lack the social skills to work in a team and are too arrogant to
learn new skills. In 2005, the consulting firm McKinsey released a
report saying that China's current education system will hinder its
economic development."

I do not find these complaints very surprising: An intense focus on
testing turns students into robots. Grades matter far more than
genuine learning. Standardized tests are not about students
developing creativity and problem solving skills; all they do is
test whether students can perform in ways that the system wants them
to perform. Over-reliance on testing and grading makes a mockery
of what education is ultimately about.

Because many Chinese and other Asians are highly attracted to college
and graduate school in the United States, I suspect that this
tells us that their high scoring on PISA and other standardized
tests may not tell as good of a story as we think it does, that
there is something not so good behind the scenes.

Jonathan Groves

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