Author speaks about the need for reform of the U.S. education system

Yong Zhao, presidential chair and associate dean for global education in the College of Education at the University of Oregon and author of 20 books and over 100 articles, gave a speech stating reasons he believes the U.S. education system has failed, and ways China has surpassed the U.S. in education. Over 100 educators and students, including many local superintendents and principals, attended the speech held in the Student Union Ballroom Oct. 4.

“The national goal of the United States’ education system should be to keep your kids out of your basement after college,” Zhao said.

Zhao’s most recent book, “World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students,” compares the U.S. education system with the educational systems of other countries, with an emphasis on China.

Zhao said the U.S. education system is like a “sausage maker,” meaning the education model stifles creativity and entrepreneurialism. Zhao went on to say the major role of the education system in this country throughout history has been to “create factory workers for Henry Ford.”

Zhao spoke about the economy and how it is directly related to specific aspects of the U.S. education model. He said that one of the major problems the U.S. must overcome is that the U.S. has become a consumer of technology, but we do not manufacture these technological devices in the U.S.

Zhao used Facebook and Twitter as examples of companies which created very few jobs in relation to the large amounts of revenue they receive. He stated the outsourcing of jobs should be a major concern of the U.S., as well. A majority of the technological devices we use are manufactured in China said Zhao, and Chinese workers are paid $1 per hour to build the iPhone.

A main topic of discussion throughout the speech was the need to create entrepreneurs in the U.S. who can compete in the global marketplace. Zhao also emphasized the importance of reforming the education system.

Many comparisons to China’s education system and examples of poor U.S. student test-taking abilities were spotlighted with a slideshow during the speech.

“They don’t know how bad they [U.S. students] are because we don’t have high standards,” said Zhao.

He also said U.S. students are “stupid” when it comes to math skills, but “40 percent think they can do math well,” even though the U.S. ranks very low in math test scores when compared to many other countries.

Zhao also said that No Child Left Behind has hurt U.S. students. When asked whether some of his ideas have been considered controversial Zhao said, “Everybody seems to agree with me, they just don’t know what to do.”

“I think everyone wants to have good education, but at the same time people feel we simply need to meet standards to know what we are doing,” he said. Meeting standards should be a secondary goal and that having a “vision on where to go” should be the main concern for U.S. educational policy makers, according to Zhao

President Geoffrey Mearns said he enjoyed the speech.

“I thought it was very provocative,” he said. “It was both entertaining, but also challenging the way many of us think about education, and it was certainly very enlightening and informative for me.”

More information about Zhao and links to his many books and articles can be found at