Bruno: Still Unconvinced On The Testing/Creativity Conflict
Yong Zhao recently made the argument in Education Week that high test scores are incompatible with creativity and entrepreneurship. I'm a little reluctant to comment without having read his book on the subject, but his argument in this particular column rests on two pieces of international evidence, neither of which strike me as very conclusive.
First, countries' scores on the PISA exam are apparently inversely correlated with their scores on the GEM assessment of entrepreneurship. Since the GEM relies on self-assessment of ability, this may not tell us very much about actual ability even if the link was causal.
Zhao's second, more objective-seeming piece of evidence is that despite Shanghai's first-place showing on the PISA, China accounts for a disproportionately small share of international patents.
Additionally, there are lots of differences between China and the United States that go well beyond their PISA scores and that might plausibly affect patent filing rates. In fact, the very same Wall Street Journal article Zhao cites on Chinese patent applications discusses some of these issues, including research culture and the politicization of R&D funding.
Perhaps the most obvious difference between China and the U.S., however, is that China is a much poorer country. GDP per capita in the U.S. is $48,387. In China that number is $8,382, almost 6x less. (Even in Shanghai it's only $12,784, an interesting data point in the "Does poverty matter?" debate, given their exceptional PISA scores.) Presumably this massive difference in wealth has implications for how individuals in China spend their time and for how the country allocates its research and development dollars.
Even if we want to take a few international correlations at face value, the WSJ article points to another problem with Zhao's argument. Japan - which scores in the top 10, and well above the U.S., on all PISA exams - files almost the same number of major international patents as the United States despite having less than half the population and spending about 1/3 as much on R&D.
Maybe it really is true that in order for students to do better on international assessments of knowledge, they must also become less creative and entrepreneurial. We seem pretty far from establishing that that's the case, however. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)