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.