How many advantages does an American education have over a Chinese one?

10, according to the article 10 Educational Advances the U.S. Has Over China over at Online Colleges.

While the Chinese government may spend less on education and get better returns in the form of test scores, recent changes to the Chinese system of education, inspired by nations like the U.S., are a strong indicator that not everything we’re doing is wrong. In fact, there are a lot of things that America does right when it comes to education.

In the last few years, concerns in the U.S. about falling behind internationally, spurred on by an international test assessment that placed Shanghai students at #1 and American students at #17, have provoked some prominent commentators to suggest that America look to China to see how to do things right.  Nicholas Kristof is among the most notable of those who believe that American has a lot to learn from China when it comes to education reform.  (While on the other side of the Pacific, ironically, Chinese education reformers have been drumming the beat of systematic change more along the lines of the American model.)

In the backlash against such comparisons, many have pointed out that when we pit the quality of Chinese and American education against one another based on global test results, we may be too quick to jump to conclusions about the merits of the Chinese education system.  Instead, we should be focusing on “data at home” and “answers of our own.”*

Online Colleges share some of the characteristics of American education that make it strong, despite the need for reform.

  1. We still have the best universities in the world
  2. Online education is easier to come by
  3. American education offers more freedom
  4. School isn’t just about academics
  5. Standardized tests are important, but not life-altering
  6. Creativity is valued
  7. Less pressure on students
  8. Students can take classes in line with their talents
  9. More than one type of school
  10. Diversity is valued


Two qualities that underlie these 10 advantages are the flexibility and the freedom that an American education gives students, allowing them to pursue learning that is tailored to their own needs.  Many Chinese students and their families, eager for what American education at the secondary and tertiary levels has to offer, are flocking to American schools for precisely this flexibility and freedom.  Focusing on the strengths of American education and making them stronger will make an American education the more attractive option, every time.

While a number of these advantages are related, each warrant a closer look, and the staff writers at were happy to oblige.  For a detailed examination of each advantage, please visit the article at



*For example, see Andrew J. Rotherham’s article “Shanghai Surprise: Don’t Sweat Global Test Data” (TIME, Jan. 20, 2011); which, when it comes to China, basically says “chill out, it’s only Shanghai, not all of China.” and more recently, Alex Lew’s response to NYTimes blogger Nicholas Kristof, “Questioning Kristof on Chinese Education” (NYTimes Opinion Aug. 29, 2012).  Both are very good assessments of why we should think more carefully about using another country’s methods.  (My favorite line from Lew’s piece: “A cafeteria approach to Chinese culture – “I’ll take the work ethic, but not the stress-producing, creativity-killing exam, please” – doesn’t work; the baby is inseparable from the bathwater.”)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *