Chinese schools usually leave visitors from the U.S. feeling pessimistic about the educational chops of U.S. kids. But when San Diego Unified school board member John de Beck returned from visiting China, he reflected that U.S. students could be in the catbird seat globally. (Check out this previous post about the China trip, who’s paying for it and why.)

De Beck said that his visit showed that China is investing heavily in its highest-achieving kids, who apply for selective regional schools with top-notch facilities. But its average students are afforded far less support, he said.

“There, the most able students get the very best of everything,” he said. “In our country, we’re trying to raise the average of all the kids. And in the long haul, this education race may be won with the average student. The average student in the U.S., I think, will be far superior to the average student in China.”

Still, top students in China may have advantages over U.S. high-achievers, he added. And he believes that the key problem for U.S. students is motivation — a problem that he thinks is less serious in China because education is considered a privilege.

“If you don’t demonstrate a willingness to study day and night and to work to the point of personal sacrifice to the very best education you can get, you’re not going to make it in China,” de Beck said. “We asked, what do you do for kids who aren’t doing well? Their answer was, there are 600 kids waiting for their seats” in the selective schools.

Closer to home, de Beck is trying to boost student motivation by launching the third year of Catch a Rising Star, a program that rewards kids for hard work or good behavior with field trips to museums, the zoo, the aquarium and other attractions. The program is privately funded and costs about $150 for a bus of 40 kids.

But donations are lagging just as gas prices skyrocket, making field trips pricier, de Beck said. If you’re interested in learning more, you can contact de Beck at the San Diego Unified school board: 619.725.5550.

EMILY ALPERT

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