The news last week that Shanghai students achieved the top scores in math on the international PISA exam was for some of us not exactly a wake-up call (as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan characterized it) or a Sputnik moment (as President Obama called it).
We've seen this result before. We've seen the reactions and the theories and the excuses that purport to explain why the US does so poorly in math. In fact, there are three main variations used to explain why Chinese/Asian students do so well in international exams:
· Version 1: They are taught using rote learning and then regurgitate the results on exams that test how well they memorize the procedures of how to solve specific problems.
· Version 2: They are taught using the reform methods of a "problem based approach" that doesn't rely on drills, and instills critical thinking and higher order thinking skills
· Version 3: The teacher or the culture produces the proper conditions for learning
It’s hard to know where to start with these, so let’s take them in order.
I disagree with him somewhat on version 3, as some cultures do value education more than others. I don't think it's a stretch to say that the upper classes of our own society put more emphasis on education than do the lower classes, and it's not a stretch to say that some national cultures put more emphasis on education than do other national cultures.