Posts by Bingyu Zhao

High Fees in Private Schools

Except for low-fee private schools, most private schools require much higher fees than public schools. Nevertheless, private education is becoming more and more popular, with the number of private schools all over the world. Now private schools have broad coverage of kindergartens, primary schools, middle schools and high schools. As more people are getting accepted into private schools, these schools are also accepting increasingly higher fees.

Although I am psychologically prepared and aware of the range of high tuition charged by private schools, I am still shocked by the 50 most expensive private high schools in the United States listed on this website. The tuition for day-time students in the top 1 school is $43,314 per year, and even the school which ranks 50 also requires $35,755 per year. [1] Obviously, the tuition is much higher than the cost of attending some universities and colleges.

Meanwhile, the same phenomenon happens in China. In Beijing, sending a child to a private kindergarten with bilingual programs costs about 9,000 RMB (about $1,500) per month, which is also much higher than the cost of universities and colleges. [2] To be honest, the extremely high tuition has gone beyond my ability to understand and accept it.

What kind of knowledge is worth such high tuition? After pondering this question initially, I thought that high tuition is simply ridiculous. But when I looked over the description of the top 50 expensive private schools, something else caught my attention. For example, some schools say that they have perks to top college destinations, including Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, Johns Hopkins and so on. [1] Among those schools on the list, some can provide opportunities for students to study abroad, and some have abundant extra-curricula activities for students. At that time, I realized that high teaching quality and superb facilities are not probably worth as much money as, these additional perks. Likewise, Chinese parents who send their children to receive bilingual (Chinese and English) education at a high cost may believe it would be a good start for their child’s bright future.

Moreover, there are some other reasons for parents sending children to private schools. Private schools have smaller class sizes than public schools, which is the reason for some parents choosing private schools. For those introverted kids, a too large class size is not adequate and may prevent children from developing their strengths. Meanwhile, a smaller class size will make them feel comfortable and develop their strengths. [3]

Interestingly, when parents talk about high tuition in private schools, most of them think it is worth it. Laura Dean, a mom living in Bay area, spends $40,000 a year for her two kids’ private school tuition. Although they live in one of top-rated school districts in California, Dean still thinks private schools are better than those public schools and the quality of education in private schools is “worth every penny”. [4] One of my aunts sends her son to a private middle school in China, which is far away from home, meaning she has to spend much time traveling, in addition to paying the high tuition cost. And she also thought it was worth it when I asked her.

For many parents, the main reasons for choosing private schools are the high teaching quality and superb facilities. However, many parents are struggling with the high fees of private schools. For example, in Beijing, it is almost impossible to find a reputable kindergarten with less than 1,000 RMB (about $150) per month, which is nearly a quarter of an average salary, putting much pressure on middle-class families.[5] Because of this, it is difficult for parents to afford high tuition. Xiao Zheng, a Chinese mother who has a three-month-old baby, said “my husband and I began to save money for our baby after our marriage.” [5] Along with this issue, it is not surprising that private schools have lost huge numbers of children because of the high fees. For those children whose parents cannot afford the cost, they choose state schools or public schools because were fees are lower.

Whether in China or in United States, many people still regard public schools as a second choice because of the lower teaching quality and facilities. Currently in China, high tuition in private schools is a problem for many families, while the lower teaching quality in public schools also needs improvements in order for students to receive high quality of education at little or no cost. To address this issue, the government needs to take more measures.







“Merit Pay” in Education

Recent blogs by Alyssa and Hang on teacher salaries made me think of the merit pay system, a term which appears frequently in the context of education reform. Originally, merit pay was defined as “an approach to compensation that rewards the higher performing employees with additional pay or incentive pay” in business. [1] Since the mid-1980s, merit pay has been used to connect teachers’ performance with salaries in the United States schools. [2] Currently, it has been in use in some other countries such as United Kingdom and China.

First, merit pay is performance-related pay which means a bonus for a good teachers’ performance. And teachers’ performance is measured by “students test scores”. [3] It is understandable that people may be motivated by higher salaries, and teachers are not an exception. In other words, merit pay system aims to motivate teachers to improve themselves and put more efforts into teaching. At the same time, merit pay system can create a competitive environment among teachers, whereby teachers compete with each other through students’ grades. With this system, the most ideal outcome would for students to have good grades and for teachers to teach efficiently.

However, while merit pay is increasingly used in schools in different countries, it also receives some criticism. Joe Bower, a teacher from Canada, explains why he thinks merit pay is a bad idea for education systems. One of his main arguments is that merit pay requires the education systems to pursue measurements such as standardized testing, and additionally encourages teachers who have chosen a career of public-service to focus on extra rewards such as pay. [4] Meanwhile, he thinks that merit pay will change teachers’ attitudes towards students, which means teachers will regard students as test scores increasers instead of real students. [4]


Merit pay transforms education into business and it is difficult to imagine how teachers work in a business environment.Schools are not like companies which can make much profit to support the merit pay plan; on the contrary, the financial budget is a problem for the education system. In some Texas school districts, the merit pay system disappeared because of the financial budget. It is not difficult for teachers to increase students’ test scores because of the motivation of rewards, meaning that plenty of money is necessary to continue. At the same time, Angeles Davis, president of NEA-Dallas, thinks “Some teachers wind up being punished for reasons beyond their control because not all students are good test takers.” [6] The Texas example illustrates that completely putting merit pay system into education is still questionable and needs more consideration.

I agree with these criticisms to some degree. I am from China, I have seen a lot about how students fight for their continuous examinations. Chinese students receive too much pressure from the standardized tests, although it is true that the tests are necessary in current Chinese education system to select excellent students from a large population.

The research shows that merit pay was first introduced into Chinese educational system in 2009, which only has a five-year history. [5] For a Lehigh graduate level class Self and Groupswhich I took in 2013 fall semester, I was required to do a research project related to education change. I chose a Chinese middle school where my mother teaches as my focus, and did some research on changes in the last decade. During that research, I found out that merit pay is closely related to teachers’ salaries, which interested and surprised me much. The situation of merit pay system in China is quite different from other countries. In the middle school which I researched, the merit pay system was not based on teachers’ performance or students’ grades too much. The main determinant of merit pay is the longer the teacher has taught, the more pay he or she will receive.

In the Chinese case, the merit pay is not a “real” merit pay. Rather, it has been modified to fit the particular Chinese education environment. According to the exam-oriented education system, Chinese students and teachers are always facing intense this contest, students care much about their grades and rankings, and teachers care much about the class rankings. For both students and teachers, there is so much pressure that additional (financial) stimulation is perhaps not needed.

I also think that merit pay has become an excuse in order to attract public attention to education, motivating more people to become teachers. Gradually, teacher is becoming a desired job in China. Nevertheless, I also think it will cause some conflicts among old teachers and new teachers in the future if no changes happen to the merit pay system. Currently, teachers receive merit pay according to their teaching experience, which means older teachers would receive more money than new teachers, although new teachers may have good teaching performances. It seems unfair to those new teachers who perform well in their teaching, which is a potential threat for the merit pay plan in China.

While introducing merit pay into education system may have some benefits. We have to admit that it creates many problems, such as the increasing pressure on teachers and students and the financial burden on the educational system. Whether the merit pay in China will continue or disappear (like in Texas) in the future remains unknown.



[1] Healthfield, M. S. Merit pay rewards performance. Revived from

[2] Morrison, N. (2013). Merit pay for teachers is only fair. Revived from






New Oriental: How to make private tutoring successful in China?

“At New Oriental, our mission is to inspire Chinese students of all ages to improve their lives and expand their horizons through a lifelong commitment to learning. By empowering students to achieve their potential, build self-confidence, and develop a global vision encompassing both traditional Chinese values and modern thinking, New Oriental is committed to training a new generation of business and community leaders.”[1]

—Mission statement of New Oriental—one of the most successful private tutoring companies in China


 Recently, students in Lehigh’s International Education Policy class discussed the issues surrounding private tutoring, also called shadow education. The discussion focused on such issues as the phenomenon of private tutoring becoming worldwide, the equity implications of private tutoring, and the professional ethics of teachers who also work as private tutors. However, the situation of private tutoring is quite different in different countries. For example, shadow education functions successfully in Japan, while in other countries (such as Cambodia) private tutoring is not as successful. Although private tutoring has become a worldwide phenomenon, it is still heatedly debated.

After class, I continued to think more about private tutoring in China, and reflecting on how private tutoring has already been permeated into Chinese students’ common lives. Why do I say this? Because New Oriental—the most successful private tutoring company in China— has close relationship with Chinese students. New Oriental mainly focuses on the English language, and provides all tutoring services related to English examinations such as GRE, TOFEL, IELTS, and SAT. Since New Oriental was founded in 1993 in Haidian Distinct of Beijing, it had built 53 short-time language educational schools, 47 book stores, and 500 learning centers in 48 cities in China, and the 2011 statistics showed that there were about 15,000,000 students who had studied in New Oriental.[2] Now New Oriental is becoming more popular than the regular schools, and after connecting its success with the in-class discussion, I would like to highlight four points that make it successful:

 1. Addressing the needs of the Chinese society. New Oriental was founded when Chinese families and students began to be aware about the advantages of the Western education. At that time, the entrance exams such as GRE and TOFEL were seen as obstacles to pursuing education abroad and there was no doubt that the establishment of New Oriental helped those students prepare for the tests. With a good start, New Oriental began to expand its business to more areas, such as SAT training. With more and more Chinese students going to study overseas, New Oriental develops successfully

2. Offering new tutoring modes. “Speed Education” [3] is a strategy which New Oriental has implemented for many years. It means that most courses provided by New Oriental are short-term and last no more than twenty days during the holidays. At the same time, New Oriental learning centers are all over China, increasing access to tutoring services to students. Students don’t have to squeeze their own time from their busy school schedules; instead, they can choose any learning center which is near their homes. If there are still students who cannot attend the classes, they can choose to use online courses. Moreover, although the courses are short-term, the fees are very high. The high fees put pressure on students who are eager to make full use of every coin they pay. They have clear learning goals and concentrate on the entire courses, often resulting in totally different performances compared to their regular school classes. [3] At the same time, during the tutoring classes, teachers always tell some interesting stories about what happened to them in order to catch students’ attention, creating lively class discussions and avoiding boredom in their classroom. [3] Besides, in New Oriental, there is an interesting policy of grading for teachers. [4] In regular schools, teachers grade students; however, the roles change in New Oriental, where students grade and give feedback on each of their teachers’ performance. This policy guarantees the quality of courses and also is convenient for collecting suggestions from students.

3. Teaching the learning skills. Although New Oriental offers short-term courses, students receive plenty of information and curriculum content in the short period, which means that teachers have to make full use of every minute to deliver their knowledge. To make the class more effective, teachers choose to focus on the skills and not only the content of the teaching materials. [5] For example, for the reading questions in GRE, teachers will teach students how to exclude wrong answers and choose the right answers. When students participate in the exams, they have learned how to use the skills to answer the questions correctly. The higher frequencies of high scores on GRE or GMAT prove that those skills are more useful than the traditional teaching ways.

4. Raising the quality of teachers. Unlike those regular schools in China, the educational levels of New Oriental teachers are relatively higher and New Oriental has strict requirements for teacher recruitment. [3] Many teachers graduated from elite universities all over the world, such as Peking University, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, University of Pennsylvania, and others, thus creating an “elite team.” Besides, each teacher in New Oriental should have his or her own featured teaching method, [3] guaranteeing that every teacher is distinctive and thus ensuring unique learning experiences for students.

 Although New Oriental makes much contribution to the development of English in China, its commercial character is geared towards the generation of profit, which is also a reason of high fees. Rather than opening more learning opportunities for all students, New Oriental is only increasing opportunities for students who can afford the cost. This can future deepened social inequities in the area of education.

Furthermore, New Oriental is also criticized for problems in its leadership as reflected in such news titles as “Contradictions appear among administrative leaders in New Oriental”, “More and more teachers leave New Oriental,” and so on. According to the news reports, New Oriental has reached its success because of its collaborative leadership. However, some critics argue that as the company has become more successful and profitable, those leaders have become more arrogant and less collaborative, causing difficulties in reaching agreements and instead insisting on their own thoughts and ideas. [6] Moreover, many New Oriental teachers are becoming more famous and some students choose New Oriental just because they want to see the popular teachers. Those teachers think they bring much profit for New Oriental and they ask for higher salaries. If New Oriental refuses to meet their needs, they often choose to leave. It is a pity that some teachers have lost their original intention of being good teachers, they want to be more famous and earn more money instead.

Nevertheless, there is still a long way for New Oriental to go, and I also look forward to watching it develop in the future.









Public school district system in China: Realizing a real equity or bringing a new threat to Chinese education?

In February 2014, Chinese Ministry of Education issued a scheme of school district system, which allows that students to attend neighboring schools without passing examinations. This policy aims at allocating student resources more equably. [1] Since China passed the first compulsory education law in 1986, Chinese education has experienced a lot of reforms, especially in public education. At the beginning, the compulsory education was only defined as “required” education; Chinese students still had to pay certain tuition and miscellaneous fees (including books and school uniforms). To help more students receive education, the revised 2006 education law stipulates explicitly that students will receive a nine-year compulsory education without any tuition and miscellaneous fees in public schools. This education policy ensures that more students attend schools, while also giving students a right to choose their desired schools. This creates a phenomenon of more students choosing to go to key schools [2] instead of regular schools, especially in urban areas. It is common that many key schools set up entrance examinations to select best students, and even ask for higher education fees for students with lower examination scores [3]. On the contrary, regular schools are facing a shortage of student resources, creating a serious imbalance between key and regular schools. In this context, the school district system has been put forward to alleviate this imbalance.

Interestingly, in the development of Chinese education, “advocating for students to go to neighboring schools” is not new. To illustrate it, the China Education Online (CEO) has published a diagram to show the whole process of Chinese education [4]:

— In 1986, the Chinese first compulsory education law states: local governments set up elementary schools and middle schools to ensure that children can receive education in their neighborhood.

— In 2006, the revised compulsory education law states: local governments should guarantee school-aged children can receive education in schools which are near to the places of their official residence.

— In 2010, the “National Long-term Plan for Education Reform and Development” states: to adapt to the urban and rural development, local governments should regulate the school distribution to make it convenient for students to attend neighboring schools.

All the relevant educational laws and regulations mention that students should choose neighboring schools to receive education.

This new school district system emphasizes that students can attend neighboring schools without examinations, which would release pressure on students. At the same time, for those students whose homes are near key schools, they don’t need to compete with other students any more. Moreover, to avoid losing student resources, local governments will also strengthen the efforts to increase the quality of schools in order to balance the school facilities and quality of teachers in different schools. [1] It is hoped that, as a result, parents won’t try to send their children to key schools; and children won’t have to experience the intense competition in their early ages. To some degree, this policy creates a relatively equitable and healthy educational environment.

However, under the schools district system, one of the problems has caught people’s attention. The revised 2006 compulsory education law mentions that students can attend schools near their official residence, which means that students can attend any schools near their homes. The problem is two-prong. First, rich families may want to guarantee that their children receive best possible education and do not hesitate to spend plenty of money in order to buy houses near key schools. [6][7] In Chinese newspapers, news about “extremely high-priced school district housing” has been reported frequently and it is very common that parents buy school district houses in order to send their children to good schools. Second, poor families may be renting houses, which may prevent their children from attending neighboring schools. In other words, equitable access to quality education is still a problem. When children are rejected by schools because of the residential status, the educational system is not equitable any longer and has lost its own original intention. This problem may become a threat for Chinese education unless the government makes some measures to change it.


Unlike other countries where school district system has been used for years, China still needs better implementation mechanisms. Nevertheless, this system is a good attempt to reform Chinese education and it does bring certain advantages. Will it bring the real equity on public education? Or will it become a new threat? I believe we can find answers in the future.




[2] Key schools:  Usually those with records of past educational accomplishment – were given priority in the assignment of teachers, equipment, and funds. They also were allowed to recruit the best students for special training to compete for admission to top schools at the next level. (Wikipedia) 

[3] Tsang, C.M. (2001). School choice in the People’s Republic of China.



[6] Wu, X., (2011). The household registration system and rural-urban educational inequity in contemporary China. Population Studies Center.






New Modes for Chinese “Gaokao”

On March 22nd-24th, 2014, China Development Forum was held in Beijing. In the forum, China Education Department proposed that there will be a new scheme for the Gaokao — the Chinese College Entrance Examination.The new scheme asks for “two kinds of talents, two modes.” Lu Xin, the vice minister of China Education Department, explained that “two kinds of talents” are technical talents and academic talents. The first mode of Gaokao includes skills test and academic test, which aim to select technical and skilled students; the second mode of Gaokao is as same as the traditional Gaokao, which aims to select academic talents. This new scheme has immediately attracted the attention of all educators, students, and parents, becoming the hottest debate in China. [1]

In China, the reform of Gaokao has been discussed for years, but there was no real implementation for it. Gaokao is the most important examination in China, which determines the trends of Chinese education to some degree. Any shift on Gaokao will cause certain changes in the Chinese education system. For example, last year Beijing Education Department proposed that the English scores would decrease from 150 to 100 in Gaokao, which quickly caused the reduction of attention to English language learning. For Chinese students and schools, the requirements of Gaokao seem like the guides during their study. Most of the times, schools and students will focus on the materials that will appear in the Gaokao examination, which creates many test-typed students.

Moreover, the traditional Gaokao and the broader Chinese educational system have also caused a social problem, which is the serious imbalance between “white collar” and “blue collar” job market. Some students who succeed in the Gaokao are treated as “good students” for granted. On the contrary, students who fail the Gaokao have to attend some technical schools to learn vocational skills. After graduation, those “good students” only want to seek some “white collar” jobs with high salary and good environment, and they never take those “blue collar” jobs into consideration. According to public perception, students who graduate from good universities are overqualified for the “blue collar” jobs and few graduates want to be technicians in China. This perception has existed for years and it is difficult to change. At the beginning, the “good students” could find good jobs with their high degree easily. However, the current situation is different. The high number of graduates has intensified the competition in the “white collar” job market, and the recruitment requirements have become much stricter than before. At the same time, those limited positions cannot satisfy the graduates’ demands for jobs. Compared with the intense competition in the “white collar” job market, the situation in “blue collar” job market has a heavy shortage of qualified technicians. Especially in some coastal cities in China, there is a large demand for technicians. Notwithstanding high salaries, it is still difficult for companies to hire qualified people because most graduates do not learn the practical skills and lack the ability to take the job.


A career fair in a Chinese university

In addition, many schools and families feel worried about the new scheme because they think it is difficult for students, especially those students who will attend Gaokao soon, to change their traditional learning patterns to adapt to this new mode. The China Education Department has responded that this new policy will be implemented after three years, which would give enough time for students to prepare for the new Gaokao. Many educators and sociologists hold positive attitudes about the new scheme, and they think this reform of Gaokao will change the imbalance between the “white collar” and “blue collar” job market[2]. This new scheme breaks the traditional mode of Gaokao, and opens a new view of educating students more comprehensively. At the same time, this new scheme will not only relieve students’ pressure for the examination, but also change the severe employment environment. Students will have more opportunities to pursue education in their desired schools and obtain jobs.

Currently, no one can guarantee whether this change will result in positive or negative outcomes. Currently, there are about 1,200 colleges in China, which have some distinctiveness in the teaching quality and teaching level, offering similar education programs. How will the colleges respond to the new changes? A professor of Peking University Chengwen Hong says, “The most likely change will be some local colleges. They will not aim to build research-oriented or academic-oriented colleges any longer; instead, they will engage in building characteristic colleges to attract more students. At the same time, for those colleges who insist on cultivating technical talents, this policy will encourage schools to enhance schools’ self-confidence”[2]. Professor Hong’s comments reflect that he holds positive attitudes for this upcoming reform, coinciding with the outcomes that we expect. After all, no matter what kind of outcomes will occur, we still look forward to the future.






The popularity of Chinese-learning

This winter holiday, when I was in the airport waiting area of Beijing International Airport, an interesting scene caught my attention: three American children were running and singing a popular Chinese children’s song together, followed by a Chinese woman and their mother. It is easy to guess that the Chinese woman was a baby-sitter and family’s Chinese language teacher at the same time. I have also seen many videos before—like the one shown here, which show American girls speaking Chinese, usually taught by their family’ Chinese language teacher. These are two good examples perhaps suggesting that learning of Chinese language becoming more and more popular outside of China. Usually, parents choose to start with their children who would learn the language easier and faster.

On January 31st, we celebrated the Chinese New Year—the most important festival of China. A Chinese homeschooling organization held an event to help children and parents celebrate the festival together. Children were asked to construct a simple lantern—which is similar with the Chinese traditional decoration with their parents’ help. This kind of Chinese cultural event could help children understand Chinese culture easily and also could leave children a strong impression for Chinese traditional festivals. [1]


As the learning of Chinese language becomes more popular in countries where it is not spoken, more information becomes available online about how to effectively teach Chinese to children. On blog with a title “Chinese dubbed movies will be a great tool for learning Chinese” was published on the BetterChinese blogs, arguing that when children are watching their favorite and familiar movies such as Finding Nemo or Toy Story, they don’t care which language the movie is in, even if these movies are played in Mandarin. Although not backed up by any scientific evidence, the blog suggests that this may be an effective way to help children learn Chinese, because it is easy for children to understand movies and they feel accomplished as a result.[2]

Telling Chinese stories is another tool to teach Chinese, which also helps children learn about Chinese traditional culture. For example, the Mid-Autumn Festival is a holiday to commemorate Chang’e, a fictional beautiful woman who left her husband and had to stay on the moon. The story reminds people to reunite and care more about their families. The Dragon Boat Festival is a Chinese traditional festival to commemorate Quyuan who was a great person with high reputation in the history. People throw zongzi into the river where Quyuan committed a suicide to feed fish in order to prevent fish eating Quyuan’s body, and this is the reason why people eat zongzi during Dragon Boat Festival. Those stories give meaning to Chinese festivals and raise people’s interest in learning about the Chinese culture.


The examples illustrate that the process of learning the Chinese language is also a process of for people to learn the Chinese culture. As English becomes the domaint international language and is used increasingly more widely in recent years, more and more Chinese begin to learn English and Chinese parents focus more on their children’s English scores instead of Chinese scores. However, few Chinese people realize that when Chinese parents try to improve their children’s English skills, people from other countries are beginning to learn Chinese.

With the effects of globalization, China plays a more important role than ever before in the world, and people begin to pay attention to China and the Chinese culture. In other words, the popularity of Chinese learning could be seen as a sign that the Chinese culture is becoming widely accepted. Years ago, the Chinese government has begun to support the spread of Chinese traditional culture, and now there are 440 Confucius Institutes established in 120 countries. In the United States, there are 100 Confucius Institutes in universities and 356 Confucius classrooms in schools, including elementary schools and high schools. Personally, I think these Confucius Institutes build bridges between Chinese and people from other countries, providing good opportunities for people to understand Chinese well and also promoting interpersonal relationship between different groups of people. As a Chinese, I feel proud that Chinese culture is recognized and valued by people from other countries.