Ms. Rabinowitz Goes to China

The Hamden superintendent of schools, along with two other administrators, spent a week experiencing education and life Chinese style.


It was a "trip of a lifetime" for three Hamden school administrators who spent the April vacation as the guests of Chinese educators curious as to the American way of learning.

Supt. of Schools Fran Rabinowitz, Asst. Supt. Marie Jordan-Whitney and West Woods School Principal Barbara Nana made the trip after Nana was contacted by a group of students and educators from China two years ago who were in the U.S. and looking for a high-performing elementary school to check out.

"They visited after school got out and had a wonderful day of learning what it is like to be an American," Nana told the Board of Education recently during a presentation on their trip. "It was such a success that we continued to correspond and formed a partnership."

That partnership led to the invitation for the April trip, Rabinowitz said, which was paid for by the American Education Alliance in Pasadena, Calif.

The Hamden school district "paid absolutely nothing for it," Rabinowitz said.

"It was the experience of a lifetime, especially in terms of education," Rabinowitz said. In that week's time they took six planes and one bullet train, she said, and rarely got any rest.

"In a week we really did not stop," she said. "There was not a whole lot of sleeping but it was worth it."

As part of the state Department of Education, she had been invited to go to China several times but declined, Rabinowitz said. "This appealed to me because we got to go into the schools," she said.

They were treated like royalty, the women said. At one point she noticed a Hummer limo outside their hotel, Rabinowitz said. "I wondered who was here that who have that," she said, and it turned out it was there for them, as was a sign outside one of the schools they visited that read "Warmly Welcome American Education Experts."

"We went to a lot of formal presentations and dinners that lasted two and a half hours," Jordan-Whitney said. "We ate a lot of things we didn't recognize."

What amazed them most was the size of the schools and the classrooms, she said. A school campus could have several thousand students and it was common to see classrooms of 50 students, she said. And elementary school teachers teach only one subject, she said, rather than all subjects as they do here.

The school day runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a break from 12 to 2 p.m., she said, and teachers teach three classes a day. During the break, the students go home, generally to their grandparent's, for lunch,  she said. Family members tend to provide child care rather than day care providers, she said.

As early as elementary school, students chose elective subjects, Nana said, that could include learning to pour and serve tea, paper cutting, calligraphy, gardening and arts and crafts. "The arts are highly revered," she said.

Both students and teacher wear uniforms provided by the school, Rabinowitz said, and each school votes on the type of uniform and colors they want to wear. The student's behavior was exemplary, she said, and educators are held in high esteem.

At dinners, no one would begin to eat until she did, Rabinowitz said. "Trust me, that doesn't happen here," she joked.

While most of their time was spent in the schools, they did have some time for sightseeing, Jordan-Whitney said. "There wasn't a lot of time to be a tourist," she said, but what they did see was "gorgeous."

The Forbidden City "was absolutely amazing," Rabinowitz said. "It felt like we were walking through history."

There were, too, some familiar sights, she said. "We were thrilled to see McDonalds and Starbucks," she said. "Some things are universal."

The three were showered with gifts wherever they went, so much so that "we had to go buy another suitcase to bring home all the gifts," Rabinowitz said.

The trip was such a success that there are already plans for Chinese students to visit Spring Glen School before the school year ends, she said, and there could be more trips in the future.

"They are very serious about having our students go over there," she said.

"There is nothing like visiting there to see what is going on," she said, and some of the things they saw could be considered here.

"I would like to explore elementary teachers teaching one subject," she said. "It was a phenomenal experience and hopefully it will add to the richness of our curriculum because of it."


Ann Criscuolo Pari May 16, 2012 at 03:36 PM
If the visiting team (Fran and company) brought back just one idea of how to improve our teaching system here in CT (and the US for that matter) then any expense is well justified. Our education system has become stale and we should explore, through visiting other nations and other models, exemplary education models to help implement improvements to ours. I especially like the idea of teachers teaching one subject that they are proficient in and a longer break between classes so that teachers and students can be refreshed an ready and eager to teach and learn.
Ted B May 16, 2012 at 05:32 PM
I am very impressed with this superintendent. She is the best we have had since I have been in Hamden and I hope she doesn't retire. Sounds like it really was a trip of a lifetime.
George Levinson May 16, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Let's see the particulars: Fifty students in a classroom, obviously many fewer teachers, longer school day, and longer school year. And, by the way, I'm sure the cost per student is way less, even adjusted for the cost of living. And apparently much better outcomes for the students. Which of these improvements are you willing to make, Ms Superintendent?
Ellen Nosel May 16, 2012 at 07:56 PM
The comment about class size is very revealing. Educators here scream about class sizes being too big when they hit 25 or 30 kids and yet these classes have 50. "The student's behavior was exemplary, she said, and educators are held in high esteem." "Family members tend to provide child care rather than day care providers, she said." That is the key....kids come to school ready to learn, respecting the authority of the teachers. They haven't been warehoused in day care centers so their parents can work to afford another big screen tv, lavish vacations or the newest car. These are the problems with our school system, and they all start at home. I will be interested to see how the Superintendent applies these lessons to Hamden.
Thomas Alegi May 16, 2012 at 07:58 PM
Did any Hamden school administrator see any changes from when this letter to the letter was written in the New York Times 2 years ago, if so what did you see? To the Editor: “Testing, the Chinese Way” Having just returned from a trip to China, which included visits to several public schools, I disagree with Elisabeth Rosenthal’s representation of Chinese educational goals. While it may be true that her children experienced a great deal of testing while attending a Beijing school, China is poised for a very different approach to education. With a delegation of educators from the United States and other countries, I had the opportunity to observe firsthand the classrooms and schools in both urban and rural settings. In our discussions with ministers of education, university professors, classroom teachers, students and parents, we found universal disdain for the amount and intensity of testing in what they call their “examination culture.” So distressed are the Chinese by the emphasis on testing that they have unabashedly resolved to aspire to education reforms that include more attention to creativity, encouraging students to attend to social action and a reduction of competitive tests. How ironic that just as America is “racing to the top” by unleashing another round of requirements for additional testing, our most significant world competitors are realizing the folly of such an emphasis in their schools. Arnold Dodge Merrick, N.Y., Sept. 12, 2010


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