When you think of China, what comes to mind?

When you think of China, what comes to mind? Is it the Great Wall? Thousands of years of high-stakes testing? Tofu? Pollution? I experienced all of these recently when had an opportunity to give an invited talk at a think tank symposium sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Education and organized by other several other organizations.

This post will use a different format, it will be half travel blog and half education blog. 🙂

Just in case you aren’t interested in the travel blog part of this post, I’ll lead with the lecture I gave in Beijing entitled “What Instead? Reframing the Debate about Market-Based Reform.” I discuss below the rise and claims of market-based reforms. I also comment on whether we can consider market-based reforms as “civil rights.”

China has changed in each of the decades since I lived there in 1996. Each time I visit, I am amazed by how much the country has changed. In the post After Thousand of Years, #China Changing Mind on #Testing ? #edreform, I talked about my first experience in China when I lived there for five months in the 1990s.

I then visited China again in the middle of an Around-the-World trip in 2005.

In 2014, I accompanied the National Education Association state teachers of the year on a study tour. I discussed the trip in the post Photo Essay: Chinese School is Lesson for US Policymakers

My most recent trip came about quite suddenly. I received an email from Kevin Welner stating that the Chinese had requested that fellows from the National Education Policy Center attend an event a mere three weeks from the date of the request. Once my travel was approved by California State University Sacramento, I accepted the offer and began the application process for the visa. I was able to get airfare to China for $1,000 at the last minute. I thought this price was a bargain because a ticket that was purchased recently for me to give a keynote in Charlotte, NC cost $800. Also, if I remember correctly, my Northwest Airlines ticket from 1996 was about $1,700. So 20 years later, the ticket was a good deal.


The Boeing 787 is a glorious aircraft

The flight to China takes about 13 hours. My strategy was to stay up the entire flight, basically pull an all nighter. I have learned from my three previous trips to China that if you sleep on the flight— which is what you body tells you to do because it is night in the United States, then when you arrive in China, you are not able to go to sleep even though it’s evening. Six movies and many Cokes later I arrived in China at about 9 p.m. A volunteer from the meeting was there to greet me with a sign bearing my Twitter handle. 🙂


We then headed from the airport to the Friendship Hotel, which was only about a mile from where I lived in 1996 for five months in the Chinese Academy of Sciences guest hotel.


The Beijing conference was entitled The U.S.-China Education Think Tank Dialogue: Educational Research, Policymaking and Innovation in the Knowledge-Based Economy and included academic and researcher representatives from the China and the United States.


It was an official activity of the 7th Annual High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 10.53.29 AM

The meeting covered a variety of topics:

  • China-U.S. School Principal Dialogue
  • Education Reform and Development (my lecture on market based reform was slotted here)
  • Curriculum Reform for the 21st Century
  • Innovation in Classrooms and Schools
  • Higher Education Reform & Employment
  • Teacher Training and Development
  • U.S. -China Education Cooperation and Innovation
  • Education Standards and Evaluation


One of the more interesting conversations occurred at an invite only evening meeting. Update 4/6/16: I was recently asked not to talk about the details of this meeting so I have redacted them from this blog.

We were also able to visit a Chinese elementary school and also a high school. The model schools they showed us were incredible. John Dewey would have been impressed by what we were shown.

We visited Beijing No. 35, a historic, high-performing, model high school.

The formal evening dinners were spectacular!

I also took the subway in the morning to shop at the Pearl Market. When you see me, I’ll tell you about the deals that I bargained.

After the conference, I took a day trip to the Great Wall of China. As you can see from the photos above, I have been to restored portions of the Great Wall during my previous visits. This time I wanted to hike the Great Wall in a place where it is in a more natural state and has not been restored. But first, breakfast on the side of the road.

Then we hiked 10 hours on the Great Wall. It was one of those days in your life that you never forget.

I don’t think I can end any better than that. Thanks for reading.

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Check out the Chinese new thinking around high-stakes testing.







One comment

  • When I think of China, what comes to mind is concern and alarm over regional and global environmental impacts of millions of *non-biodegradeable* objects produced in China, as well as its policies and conduct in Tibet, across Africa, and in Hong Kong.


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