In this post, Yong Zhao chastises Marc Tucker for admiring Chinese authoritarian education methods. Tucker, he says, praises China for its high standards and excellent exams, but he is wrong. This is part 2 of Yong Zhao’s critique of PISA. He calls this one “Gloryifying Educational Authoritarianism.”. His first was called “How Does PISA Put the Word At Risk? Romanticizing Misery.”

The secret of China’s high scores, Zhao says, is constant test prep and cheating.

Zhao writes:

“Tucker is wrong on all counts, at least in the case of China. Students may work hard, but they do not necessarily take tough courses. They take courses that prepare them for the exams or courses that only matter for the exams. Students do not move on to meet a high standard, but to prepare for the exams. The exams can be gamed, and have often been. Teachers guess possible items, companies sell answers and wireless cheating devices to students[1], and students engage in all sorts of elaborate cheating. In 2013, a riot broke because a group of students in the Hubei Province were stopped from executing the cheating scheme their parents purchased to ease their college entrance exam[2]. “An angry mob of more than 2,000 people had gathered to vent its rage, smashing cars and chanting: ‘We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat,’” read the story in the U.K.-based newspaper The Telegraph.

“Tucker’s assertion, that “because the exams are of very high quality, they cannot be ‘test prepped,’” is completely untrue. Chinese schools exist to test prep. Every class, every teacher, every school is about preparing for the exams. In most schools, the last year of high school is reserved exclusively for test preparation. No new content is taught. All students do, the entire year, is take practice tests and learn test-taking skills. Good schools often help the students exhaust all possible ways specific content might show up in an exam. Schools that have earned a reputation for preparing students for college exams have published their practice test papers and made a fortune. A large proportion of publications for children in China are practice test papers.”

Worse, Zhao asserts, the standardization crushes imagination and ingenuity. Everyone is taught to think alike, squelching creativity.

This is definitely worth reading in full, especially if you happen to work in Congress or the U.S. Department of Education.