Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization

Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization

Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization

Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization


At a time when globalization and technology are dramatically altering the world we live in, is education reform in the United States headed down the right path? Are schools emphasizing the knowledge and skills that students need in a global society--or are they actually undermining their strengths by overemphasizing high-stakes testing and standardization? Are education systems in China and other countries really as superior as some people claim?

These and other questions are at the heart of author Yong Zhao's thoughtful and informative book. Born and raised in China and now a distinguished professor at Michigan State University, Zhao bases many of his observations on firsthand experience as a student in China and as a parent of children attending school in the United States. His unique perspective leads him to conclude that "American education is at a crossroads" and "we need to change course" to maintain leadership in a rapidly changing world. To make his case, Zhao explains

• What's right with American education;

• Why much of the criticism of schools in the United States has been misleading and misinformed;

• Why China and other nations in Asia are actually reforming their systems to be more like their American counterparts;

• How globalization and the "death of distance" are affecting jobs and everyday life; and

• How the virtual world is transforming the economic and social landscape in ways far more profound than many people realize.

Educators, policymakers, parents, and others interested in preparing students to be productive global citizens will gain a clear understanding of what kinds of knowledge and skills constitute "digital competence" and "global competence," and what schools can--and must--do to meet the challenges and opportunities brought about by globalization and technology.


This book is about education in America but it began as a book about education in China. My original intention was to write about the mammoth challenges China faces in education to curb America’s surging enthusiasm for China’s education practices that seem to be an object of admiration, a model of excellence, or a source of competitive students who will threaten America’s future. I was going to write about China’s efforts to decentralize curriculum and textbooks, diversify assessment and testing, and encourage local autonomy and innovations in order to cultivate creativity and well-rounded talents. I was also going to write about China’s repeated failures and unwavering desire to undo the damages of testing and standardization. But while I was going through the reform policies, scholarly writings, and online discussion forums and blogs about education in China, I realized that what China wants is what America is eager to throw away—an education that respects individual talents, supports divergent thinking, tolerates deviation, and encourages creativity; a system in which the government does not dictate what students learn or how teachers teach; and culture that does not rank or judge the success of a school, a teacher, or a child based on only test scores in a few subjects determined by the government.

Having grown up in China, experienced the Chinese education system as both a student and teacher, and closely studied its history . . .

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