We have heard for years about the alleged superiority of Chinese education, based almost entirely on test scores on international assessments in which Shanghai comes out on top. Chinese-American scholar Yong Zhao warns in his books that Chinese education is not the paradigm that the Western media has fallen for. One scholar, Tom Loveless of Brookings, warned that Shanghai’s test-taking students were not representative of China. But they were ignored, and so we have been deluged with books and articles about why we should retool our education system so we could “surpass Shanghai” and why American mothers should get Tough and become “tiger moms.”

But wait!

Education in China, Christopher Balding writes, is so underdeveloped that it is a threat to the nation’s economic goals.

He writes:

“A widely held view in the West is that China’s schools are brimming with math and science whizzes, just the kind of students that companies of the future will need. But this is misleading: For years, headline-grabbing studies showing China’s prowess on standardized tests evaluated only kids in rich and unrepresentative areas. When its broader population was included, China’s ranking dropped across all subject areas.

“Official data bears out this dynamic. According to the 2010 census, less than 9 percent of Chinese had attended school beyond the secondary level. More than 65 percent had gone no further than junior high. From 2008 to 2016, China’s total number of graduate students actually decreased by 1 percent. Outside the richest areas, much of China’s population lacks even the basic skills required in a high-income economy.”

Outside of its prosperous urban centers, Chinese education is sharply restricted. Rote memorization continues to dominate even the classrooms in urban centers.

Time to stop mythologizing Chinese education and deal with our own realities.