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195 Million Chinese Students Are In School. Why Aren’t Our Kids? 

Right now in China, 195 million students K-12 are learning in-person in Chinese public schools. Meanwhile, millions of American public school students are learning in a failed remote system.


Right now in China, 195 million students K-12 are learning in-person in Chinese public schools. Meanwhile, millions of American public school students are learning in a failed remote system that can’t even keep track of thousands of students who haven’t shown up for class all year.  

In 2018, 15-year-olds in dozens of countries participated in the triennial Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The PISA test measures reading ability, math and science literacy, and other key skills. American scores are decidedly unimpressive, with students scoring in the middle of the pack for all categories. Most frighteningly, China beats the United States in every category.

While China does not test or educate every Chinese child like the United States does for its citizens, China’s affluent and middle-class areas also outperform affluent and middle-class U.S. areas. In addition, U.S. students underperform their peers in developed nations that also educate every child, such as Singapore and Germany.

In addition, over the last two decades U.S. students’ scores have remained virtually stagnant, while China continually does better and better every three years. In other words, China’s developed areas are out-performing us, and the gap is only getting bigger. 

Most parents and students already know that online learning is not working. A  look at recent headlines says it all:  “Coronavirus: Failing grades spike in Bay Area schools with distance learning,” “25% of Wake middle and high school students failed a class during remote learning,” “Remote learning increases failing grades by 83 percent in Fairfax county,” and “5000 Alabama students haven’t shown up for any sort of class.” 

Yes, the way China manages in-person schooling is authoritarian. The Communist Party keeps watch, making sure teachers are following a detailed hygiene protocol. Local officials routinely inspect classrooms, and the government uses apps and other technology to monitor students and staff, and restrict their movements. It has even instructed parents to stay away from their children.

But Americans have also been very compliant with overreaching COVID regulations. When school was open, singing was banned and kids were forced to wear masks while playing basketball or attending outdoor football practices, until finally many were shut down entirely. Americans have for too long put up with hypocritical governors and public health officials who violate their own rules. 

The difference between us and the Chinese is what we value. The Chinese Communist government understands that an educated population is key to global economic dominance, so they have prioritized keeping schools open, which the science has proven can be done safely. Meanwhile, in the U.S. we have closed our schools, but have deemed pot dispensaries, liquor stores, abortion clinics, and strip clubs “essential.”

American teachers unions have been some of the biggest proponents of closing schools, even though studies have proven that kids are not infecting teachers and teachers are not infecting students. Teacher unions have enacted positivity rate thresholds that mandate the return to remote learning or have simply refused to come back to work unless a vaccine is available.

Education has been China’s greatest priority and economic weapon for a long time. They were already beating us, but our COVID response could accelerate China’s education advantage, turning them into an economic superpower faster.  

It is not too late for parents and students to revolt against irrational school shutdowns that have no basis in science. This is more than an education problem. It is turning into a national security problem, too.