Seeing Global Education’s Future

John Heintz Chicago

People who live in China become desensitized to the air. The expats are included. I wear a mask when the Air Quality Index goes over 100, but I’m in the tiny minority. Just to compare, New York is usually 6 and Paris is usually 5. Over my daily commute, I might see ten people out of the thousands I pass wear masks. I don’t want to minimize the importance of air quality, especially when it comes to children, but if that’s what’s keeping you from visiting China, I ask you to reconsider.

If you haven’t been to China, it’s a great place to visit. It’s beautiful, despite the bad air quality most days. Since air quality comes up first when I encourage friends to visit, the primary villain is called PM2.5. Particles smaller than 2.5 microns go straight from the air into your lungs and then your bloodstream. Bad consequences ensue, according to a growing body of research.

Visit China if you want to see a culture more like the US than you probably think. The US and China are both big, mostly inward-looking countries that love their flags. Bigness drives most of the similarities I’ve noticed. I see the way many foreigners come to China and don’t feel welcomed. This is what I’ve noticed in the experience of many foreigners coming to the US. Another similarity is that Americans and Chinese work mostly with people from their own country. That just makes sense since there are so many people, there are plenty of workers in each. Lack of exposure other countries comes from bigness, and lack of familiarity breeds discontent.

One area of difference I know well is education. China wants to be a world leader. That means educating its best and brightest with the best learning systems in the world. A growing portion of China’s well-to-do parents send their kids abroad for university education and, increasingly, even for secondary education. China’s in-country education has certain weaknesses, such as massive class sizes, an almost exclusively lecture-based class format, constant testing and whatever-it-takes desire to win akin to Wall Street’s take-no-prisoners desire to win. That last one cuts both ways, as a strength and a weakness. America respects hard work, perseverance and determination. The flip side, as we know, is overambition, flying too close to the sun and putting money ahead of friends, family and love. The whatever-it-takes education mindset in China creates a reputation, again much like the US capitalist reputation for getting ahead, of cheating. The SAT is not offered on mainland China because the College Board doesn’t feel it can ensure test security here.

If you come to China, you’ll see parents who work hard to help their kids succeed. Moms like Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom exist as the norm. In a light most generous to parents who push their kids hard, they do it to give them an edge because they know global competition and the value of a high-quality education in building a great future.

Come to China to see its weaknesses, too. If you come you’ll see that although the country’s education infrastructure is growing, it’s far from perfect. One glaring example of this is China’s aversion to standards-based learning. If schools in the US fear moving to standards-based learning models and ending once measuring success by how long students sit in classes, schools in China don’t even have this as a distant blip on their radar.

Plan to visit China if you work in education. It’s a powerful example of what’s different, what’s new, what’s old and what’s possible in a rapidly changing education culture.

John Heintz is based in China. He’s an advisor, teacher, writer and thinker on the education, economic, legal, justice and social issues facing the global community. The experience John Heintz brings to education legal advice and management consulting contributes to the range of issues presented in his most recent writing at Second Rail Education.  


Tying Instruction to Assessment

Good teachers assess student performance constantly. I can get more from a five minute student conversation than a five year review of test scores. Excellent teachers are experts at assessing their students in real time.

I worked with an educational consultant on a project in China, in both Beijing and Yichang, which is a third-tier city I call China’s equivalent of St. Louis. Yichang is near the Three Gorges Dam and sits on the third biggest river in the world.

The consultant was a former English teacher from the Boston area who started consulting for a team of Chinese 30-somethings who built an education-related startup with the support of the government. China is deregulating its education industry, though China’s deregulation differs wildly US education deregulation. Rather than the US model of using public funds for privately-run schools, China is allowing third party contractors into traditional government schools to create competition in-house.

The Beijing startup designed and implemented a program they hoped to replicate in other top-tier Chinese public schools. Their model grafts an American high school onto an existing public school.

Middle-class Chinese parents increasingly want their kids educated out of China. They want to position their kids to be successful in the global job market, so they need to get their kids into top US universities. In case you’ve not noticed, US higher education is still American’s Number One export. China’s parents look for the best option to prepare their children for success on US exams like the AP, SAT and ACT.

The Beijing startup sought to offer an alternative to parents. They wanted to offer high quality American high school education in China’s schools. Families could stay together until college, like in the rest of the world, at the same time students maintain global competitiveness.

The consultant was helping the start-up design its academic program. She was a data-sceptic, and like most US educators dubious about data, she trusted her teaching instincts more than any testing regime.

The consultant went further. She wanted no part of 21st Century Learning. That’s today’s shorthand for getting kids technology skills they’ll need to succeed in a digital future. Her solution to students who used their smartphones too much was to ban them. Prohibiting phones was a synecdoche for the entire Beijing and Yichang project. When I proposed introducing assessments that could be shared across classrooms, I could feel her getting uncomfortable. She told me hours later that, after forty years in the classroom, she trusted her instincts more than formal assessments. She had yet to see a test score, other than a test she designed for her own students, that helped her know what to teach the next day.

Deescalating her stress, I reminded her that good teachers have always blended instruction and assessment. They do it in real time, and it’s essential for good instruction. Teachers ask questions and assess what students understand and then speed up or slow down instruction based on the feedback. If a lesson’s learning goal is extracting themes from a text, and if none of the students did the reading homework, the teacher changes the plan.

Tying instruction to assessment happens at the organizational level as well. Gauging stakeholder commitment to work is always a first priority for schools. In business it’s a market analysis, and angels fear to tread too near businesses that haven’t done one.

Good teachers have been tying assessment to instruction forever. Startups are designing digital tools to help. When they are here, high-testing will be nothing more than daily assessment for learning.

John Heintz lives in Shanghai, China. He is a writer, teacher, researcher, editor, podcaster, blogger and thinker on the education, economic, legal, justice and social issues facing the global community. Most known for his work in education, John Heintz explores a range of issues in his writing for Second Rail Education, including most recently an analysis of misunderstood effects of technology on elementary education.

Educating for the Future

John Heintz Chicago

Street sweepers in Shanghai offer a hint at the economics of China’s job market. The average income in Shanghai is under $15,000 per year. Street sweepers make less than that. Compare the life of these workers to the fact that I rarely see a car on Shanghai’s streets less than three years old. For every Chevrolet, Ford or Honda I see, there are twenty BMWs, Teslas and Bentleys.  I am not kidding that almost all cars are new, top of the line luxury brands. You will notice if it you’re in Shanghai. It’s not just a few cars that are old, there are no cars that are old. Why the luxury cars with such small incomes?

The economic answer is pretty simple. In a country of 1.4 billion, if even a small percentage of the population is rich, it’s still a lot of people. These are China’s Average Wealthy. They reside mostly in Shanghai, Beijing and the cities of 10-million-plus like Suzhou surrounding those first-tier cities. Job salaries don’t matter much for the Average Wealthy. They got most of their money from real estate. The government came in, paid a boatload for previously worthless property so the government could build a factory, and suddenly the poor became rich. Buy a new apartment and get bought out by the government again, and the rich become very rich. Wealth from real estate creates odd side effects.

Driving a luxury car in Shanghai doesn’t signal one is educated, professional, career-advanced or particularly capitalist. China’s Average Wealthy wear some of the worst Gucci I’ve ever seen – like white onesies patterned with the Gucci logo from toe to neck. Since all this money is from real estate, it’s not from people getting great incomes from great jobs earned after great educations. For the generation of China’s children who were sent to North America for their educations, incomes are still not great. Twenty-somethings return to China fluent in English and with a solid American education. Many return to China and don’t need to work. Some work good jobs for the family business, and some continue to live off the former sale of a single grandparents’ apartment. A professional class is growing, but even for China’s well-educated kids, most aren’t earning incomes anywhere near at par with their equally-educated western counterparts.

It makes me wonder about jobs. Jobs mean income, and income is not wealth. Thomas Piketty summarized the income gap well using data mostly from Europe and the US, but the trend is consistent worldwide. Capital is growing while incomes are falling.

I wonder about kids in China, the US and worldwide. Globalism has pulled much of the world out of poverty, but it’s increased the income gap. What work all our kids will do in the future is a big question for me.

Working in education, I need a longer-term answer. The benefits of education accrue over decades or even lifetimes. Some students need real job training while others need a broad education they can apply to new as-yet unimagined forms of work. Students and parents trust their education systems to know what students need and prepare them for success. School leaders need to ask the hard, long-term questions about what will drive success for today’s kids tomorrow.

John Heintz is a writer, teacher, researcher, editor, podcaster, blogger and thinker. Based in Shanghai, he writes on the education, economic, legal, justice and social issues facing the global community. John Heintz has lived and worked in Scotland, Illinois, California, Texas, France, Spain, the Netherlands and China. He writes regularly for Second Rail and other media outlets.

Historical Sites to Visit in The Hague


The Hague pic
The Hague

A graduate of Northwestern University with a master’s in English literature, John Heintz of Chicago also earned an MBA from the University of Chicago and a JD from the John Marshall School of Law. He went on to serve as legal officer and assistant superintendent for operations at Niles Township High School District 219 before becoming an international education and law consultant. As part of his post-graduate studies, John Heintz participated in the Advanced LLM in Public International Law program at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, a country which offers a number of beautiful and historic cities to see, including The Hague.

Located on the North Sea Coast, the Hague is home to the International Court of Justice, but it offers much more to do and see. The following are just a few of the numerous historical sites to visit in The Hague:

The Ooievaart

As The Hague is a canal city where boats used to unload merchandise at local markets, the city features canals where visitors can take a tour aboard the Ooievaart to get a unique view of the town’s architecture and history. During the 90-minute tour, visitors can learn about such sites as the Malieveld and the Palace Gardens.

The Grote of Sint-Jacobskerk

Constructed in the 15th and 16th centuries, The Grote of Sint-Jacobskert, also known as St. James Church, is a classic Gothic structure that features a six-sided tower with bells, historical works of art, and ornate stained-glass windows. Although the church occasionally hosts Protestant services, it is mostly used for special events, including concerts and banquets.

The Binnenhof

The Binnenhof (the Inner Court) is located in the oldest area of The Hague and dates back to 1250. Consisting of several buildings surrounding a central courtyard, the Binnenhof is now home to both chambers of Parliament as well as the North Wing, where the Dutch prime minister resides.

The John Marshall Law School – Recognized for Legal Writing Training

John Marshall Law School pic
John Marshall Law School

A former legal officer and assistant superintendent of operations for Niles Township High School District 219 in the Chicago area, John Heintz leverages his knowledge and experience to write about education and legal topics at Second Rail Education. A graduate of the University of Chicago with an MBA, John Heintz works also holds a juris doctor from the John Marshall School of Law, which has been recognized for its excellent legal writing program.

The legal writing program at the John Marshall School of Law is ranked fifth in the country by U.S. News and World Report. The school maintains rigorous legal writing standards, and requires that all students take four semesters of legal drafting.

The John Marshall School of Law also supports students through its Writing Resource Center, which is overseen by a full-time writing specialist. In addition to helping first-year law students during their adjustment to the demands of legal writing, the Writing Resource Center helps students hone their writing skills during all stages of law school through individual meetings designed to take their writing to the next level. The center even helps advanced degree students and graduating students as they seek their first position in the legal field.

To learn more about the John Marshall School of Law and its Writing Resource Center, visit

Globalization of education is here. Personalization is coming.

John Heintz, school lawyer, administrator, teacher and progressive learning advocate, offers a perspective on merging these two irresistible trends. The world, Heintz explains, is already globalized.

China is leading the way in education investments. Students in China learn English. Ambitious parents understand the value of sending their child to English-speaking countries every holiday for authentic language experiences.

Globalization of education is here
Globalization of education is here.

Parents in the West are moving less quickly. Where parents in China prepare their children for a highly competitive globalized job market, parents in America hold romanticized views of the goals of education.

In his latest piece, Heintz highlights the differences in schools today. Schools are different because of increased competition. Selective college spots are more coveted, including from international students and especially competitive children from China which topped 300,000 this year.

Students experience more stress today due to the increased competition, and even parents who retreat to the formerly safe suburbs are confronting the impact of global competition. The competition is all the more cut-throat given increased academic accountability from accurate new assessments that mercilessly sort students leaving little room for consideration whether a child is nice.

Future job skills are unclear. Parents, schools and employers seek to create flexible, adaptable learners, so the narrow training curriculum of the past has disappeared. Higher education costs continue to increase disproportionately to the economy overall. Increasingly vocal are those questioning whether big student loans for big degrees carry a worthwhile return. Even in an improving global economy, salaries are not keeping pace with increasing education costs.

Parents in the US are slowly beginning to see the depth to which schools need to change. Parents in China have seen it for years. The East has an advantage over the West in that Eastern parents understand globalization and are doing their best to prepare student for it. Western parents have an advantage over the East because of the West’s open and free internet. Education needs an open society, and openness today means freedom from censorship. China’s restrictions on information hinders its parents’ attempts to prepare its children for a global future. Western openness means students explore ideas freely.

On both sides of the Pacific, schools are the hold-up. In China, schools lack the global internet needed to match parents’ global expectations. In the US, schools maintain a 1950s bell-and-seat schedule that holds learners back from learning at a time, place and pace of the learner’s choosing.

Twenty years ago, most high school English classes taught research in high school when seniors did “the research paper.” Today, students would not consider waiting until twelfth grade to perform research. They want information, and they can get it on their phones.

Personalization is coming.
Education transformation

Globalization has come, but schools have not caught up. Progressive schools worldwide are upgrading approaches to teaching and learning. Most schools maintain dated models for organizing classes, the school day, the school year and school operations, all of which will transform when embracing the opportunities presented from digital technologies.

Embracing research starts in schools. Schools with parental support to embrace curricular and operational revisions will flourish. Parents and schools need to acknowledge these few changes that will transform learning.

  • Research needs to be taught directly and at younger ages. Curricular planning needs to include evaluation of source reliability as well as giving credit to sources.
  • Research need to be taught by whatever means necessary. Students in Shanghai research on their phones. Families in China that cannot afford computers see the power of smartphones. Students in China are masters of working with thumb-typing and have been known to write entire papers on the smallest digital devices.
  • Students need to be encouraged to research with fast processors, fast internet and good online support. The hole-in-the-wall project shows kids will research and learn on their own when given the bandwidth.
  • Traditional schools try to control information flow by focusing on plagiarism. The increase in plagiarism is good news. It signals increased numbers of students conducting research. Online research is an opportunity for teaching and learning and need not to be turned into an opening to legislate punitive rules.

Change not being made is because of parents. Parents are not the sole arbiters of what schools teach, but they are the most powerful. John Heintz, former Chicago area attorney and school superintendent, and his friends at Second Rail highlight the need for schools to catch up with globalization and prepare students for the coming education transformation. Heintz makes an informed and impassioned plea for schools to change how they approach reading, writing, research and, most imperatively, learning.

The Meaning of the Eyes in The Great Gatsby


The Great Gatsby pic
The Great Gatsby

A co-founder of and senior legal consultant with Chicago-based Lydian, Inc., John Heintz served as the assistant superintendent for operations and chief legal officer for Niles Township High School District 219, within which he also functioned as an English teacher earlier in his career. John Heintz counts To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby among his favorite books.

Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1925, The Great Gatsby involves fictional characters from different economic backgrounds living on Long Island, New York during the Roaring Twenties. While not particularly popular when published, the novel is now considered a literary classic. Some of the book’s prominent symbols highlight the era’s decadence and despair.

One such symbol is a billboard that overlooks the Valley of Ashes, a destitute environment between New York City and the fictional town of West Egg. The billboard features a pair forlorn eyes belonging to Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, peering over the desolate wasteland.

In one part of the book, the main character notes that the eyes are always keeping watch. In an interaction that takes place in front of a window where the billboard is visible, one person confronts an adulterer by saying that she can’t fool God. Some may conclude that the ever-present God sees everything and frowns upon the apparent greed, immorality, and selfish interactions set in the failed American Dream.