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East Asian Educators Look to US Schools for Ideas


President Obama with students Meghan Clark and Nathan Hughes and a robot last month at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia

President Obama with students Meghan Clark and Nathan Hughes and a robot last month at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia



This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

High school students in Asia often do better than American students on international math and science tests. Experts say part of this is because schools in countries like China and South Korea do better at preparing students to take tests. Yet some of these same countries want to learn what makes American students good at creativity and critical thinking.

Foreign educators often visit Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, near Washington. This past summer, seventy-five school principals visited from China.

Evan Glazer, the principal of Thomas Jefferson, says the school combines science and math with literature and other liberal arts.

EVAN GLAZER: “Curriculum, when it’s seen within one particular context, you’re really just developing knowledge and skills. But if you want to look at the complexity of real problems and original solutions, it requires people to come at them from different angles. And so we foster a lot of team teaching, with pairing up teachers from different disciplines so that, when they’re offering challenges to students, that they have a variety of perspectives as they approach problems.”

The admissions process is intensely competitive. Thomas Jefferson is part of the Fairfax County Public Schools but serves a wider area. The number of students from families of Asian ethnicity at the school reached fifty percent this past year.

The program was created in partnership with local businesses in nineteen eighty-five. The goal was to improve education in science, math and technology.

Some students do university-level research in fields such as microelectronics, neuroscience and biotechnology. Students can also learn from working with professionals, says Mr. Glazer.

EVAN GLAZER: “We certainly cultivate a culture of inquiry and research so that students can do original work. That’s part of our mindset. But I think, as Americans, I think we pride ourselves in our ability to constantly generate new ideas for the benefit of humanity.”

In East Asia, the focus of high school is often to prepare students for college entrance exams. But Mr. Glazer says in recent years China has been developing experimental schools. These offer more student-centered learning the way many top American schools do.

EVAN GLAZER: “And I think that’s part of the American mindset that we’ve had pride in as a country for so many years -- of the idea that everyone can bring original ideas. And I think East Asia senses that, and they certainly see the benefit to our innovation as a country.”

He points out that as East Asian countries consider greater freedom for their schools, American education is headed in the opposite direction. Most states have recently approved common standards in math and reading.

EVAN GLAZER: “In China and in Korea there is a strong interest in trying to get students to be more creative. And in America there is a strong interest in standardization. And, you know, the reality is we don’t operate in one world or the other. It’s trying to find that right balance."

And that’s the VOA Special English Education Report. I'm Christopher Cruise.

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Contributing: Matt Hilburn

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