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  • Writer's pictureJiah Hwang

Review of “[Do American and Korean education systems converge?]”



This study aims to compare the school reform policies and their impact on the educational convergence between South Korea and the U.S. For this, the study conducted a comparison of educational reform literature, government reports, and newspaper articles in Japan, Korea, England, and the U.S. The statistical tests used were qualitative and quantitative analyses of the policy documents and reports and trend analysis of the 1995–2007 TIMSS (The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and 2000–2009 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) datasets. For the U.S., researchers reviewed past educational studies and media reports to analyze past disagreements on school reform issues by using the keywords “standards-based education,” “high-stakes test,” “performance accountability,” and “school choice” to databases Education Week and Educational Resources Information Center. The same process was done for Korea for disagreements on educational diversification, decentralization, student-centered education, and more, with the keywords “education decentralization,” “education diversification,” “education liberalization,” “student-centered education,” and “school choice,” with the Korea News Integrated Database System and Research Information Sharing Service.

The study recognizes its limitations by stating that: 1. It was restricted to the students’ academic achievements and school climate

The reviews of the education reform policies of the two countries were largely descriptive rather than explanatory, as there were no other studies used to examine other forces that may have influenced the results around the same time as the study took place


The study stated that international benchmarking has been used as a solution to each nation’s educational problems as it gains public support and saves time. The U.S. showed a deficiency in focus and accountability, so they targeted standardizing curriculum, tightening assessment practices, and introducing market-like competition in the public school systems, which benchmarks the symptoms of the high-performing East Asian school systems. Korea, on the other hand, was most deficient in different social and educational challenges, so they worked to differentiate curriculum and assessments, and to decentralize school governance in Korea, benchmarking certain aspects of the U.S. school system. This sudden surge for educational accountability was brought on in the early 1990s with significant events such as the Goals 2000 program, the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994, and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which shifted the focus from curriculum to testing and school policies. As for Korea, this was brought on by, ironically, their rapid educational development. In fact, their matriculation rate of higher education was 72 % in 2011. Yet, this came at the cost of schooling, cramming, and much more over the heightened importance placed on the college entrance exam. In 1994, the Presidential Commission on Education Reform (PCER) was established in 1994 with the proposals of a new curriculum for “humanities and creativity, creation of autonomous school communities, and a new college admission system,” and the maintenance of “a ‘comprehensive personal record’ for each student, including all personal data” so that it could be weighed in the college admissions process. Finally, they required each school to organize a parent-teacher involvement council. Therefore, they targeted curriculum change, teacher–student relationship growth, and cultivating a more creative learning environment. Yet, some of the changes were minimal, such as reducing class size and therefore reducing the need for private tutoring. Since these reforms, the keywords used in this study have steadily increased since the mind-1995s, with a surge in 2007-2008 (which coincides with the changes in government). The least recognized issue was “education decentralization” as it received little attention in academia and the media. Decentralization was institutionalized after the change from appointment to public election of large city/state school superintendents in 1995.

TIMSS Math Achievement Test Results:

Did not support the predicted policy scenario of narrowing of the achievement gap between the USA and Korea

Korea: 16-point gain in 8th grade math (1995–2007)

The U.S.: 16-point math gain at 8th-grade math (1995–2007)

No change despite different reform paths

TIMSS Self-Perception of Math Achievement Test Results:

Korea: Modest gain

The U.S.: Declines in acknowledgment of math skills

Supports predicted policy outcomes

The U.S.–Korea gap dropped from 1.3 to 1 in a standard deviation

U.S. students more confident about math performance

PISA Student Survey (of the teacher–student relations and school disciplinary climate from 2000-2009)

Not a big enough gap between the countries to support predicted more positive changes regarding school disciplinary climate in the USA

Korea: More positive changes about teacher–student relations (2000–2009)

The gaps of teachers’ attention and support for students between the two countries have narrowed (2000–2009)

These results show that a balance between creativity and rigor has yet to be achieved for both countries’ education systems as their reform policies have not significantly changed student outcomes. Yet, the changes in disagreements based on these reforms influenced both the research and media topics. Overall, benchmarking helps widen each country's perspective by clarifying its strengths and weaknesses. Yet, benchmarking could risk over-criticization, further erosion of public support for one’s education system, and desensitization to cultural and institutional differences. The article concludes by stating that “each nation needs adaptive strategies to make its own unique education system more distinctive as well.”


The order in which they explain the steps and reasons for taking them in the research article was unclear. For instance, they stated what caused the changes in education policies in the U.S. and Korea in the “Results” section, when really, it should be the very first thing they explain, as it supports why this experiment was run in the first place/why the problem is a problem.

The scope of the research seemed too small to come up with defining results. They ran tests for the math abilities and surveys for self-perception of one’s math abilities, but it is a well-known fact that the private tutoring and hagwons (after school classes) in Korea equipt their students with extremely advanced math skills from young ages, as young as elementary school. This puts them well ahead statistically and would support the idea of the U.S. wanting to implement some systems of Korea’s education/school system to improve the rigor in the public schools. However, it was strange to me why they didn’t do a reading or writing test, as that involves more creative freedom, which Korean students tend to lack compared to U.S. students due to their focus on preparing for the college entrance exams. By using reading/writing and math, this study could have calculated the changes in creativity and mathematical/analytical growth but limited itself to one field, which may have affected the study.

Lastly, we saw changes in the amount of attention given to certain keywords coinciding with changes within the government, and the article never specified exactly what changes were made in the government to provoke such a reaction. For example, which figure was elected that famously supports (___) school systems that ended up changing the current policy in (___) way?


Lee, Jaekyung, and Daekwon Park. “Do American and Korean education systems converge? Tracking school reform policies and outcomes in Korea and the USA.” Asia Pacific Education Review, 2014. Springer, Accessed 21 7 2023.



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