Letter: Portland school chief took China's bait

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I must respond to Portland Superintendent of Schools Emmanuel Caulk’s recent Superintendent’s Notebook column about his visit to Chinese public schools (“China schools prepare students to compete globally,” Dec. 15). An individual of Mr. Caulk’s education and experience should have been warier about falling prey to China’s public relations engine.

What Mr. Caulk should have considered is that the students he met were not typical Chinese students. In the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s “Education at a Glance 2012,” China had the lowest high school education rate of the 36 countries listed – approximately 20 percent of current 25-to-34-year-olds started high school. Mostly, this is because Chinese high schools charge tuition.

Mr. Caulk’s statement that Chinese students had the highest scores on the OECD’s 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment in mathematics, reading and science is misleading. Only students in the city of Shanghai participated in the assessment. However, Shanghai is on average twice as affluent as the rest of China. Additionally, the city does not permit the children of lower income migrants – 39 percent of the population – to attend its high schools.

Although Mr. Caulk observed students doing research projects, research is only as good as the information available. Chinese officials censor foreign websites and imprison Internet users who criticize the government. Recently, China threatened not to renew the visas of journalists from Bloomberg News and The New York Times due to embarrassing articles about the wealth amassed by China’s highest leaders. What lesson are Chinese students supposed to learn from that?

Michelle Small