Oregon & China—Opportunity for the Rising Generation

By Rep. Dennis Richardson and David Porter

Wake up, Oregon. Consider the rise of China as a global power. Note its large and rapidly growing economy, its modernizing military, and its spreading cultural influence. Then ask the following questions: How is Oregon responding to China’s rise? Are we looking to the future? Are we preparing today’s students in Oregon for the challenges and opportunities that a rising China will pose over their lifetimes?

And the question is not just are we giving educational opportunities to individual students, but are we preparing the next generations as groups to have the language and cultural skills that can make our state, and our nation, successful in the developing international system? And of vital importance, will our future generations have the skills to minimize the chances of war with China?

Or, if conflict were to occur, would America’s understanding of Chinese culture and language enable it to be concluded successfully? Presently, the answers are a resounding, “No, not at all.” Oregon’s K-12, colleges and universities are failing to produce Chinese culture- and language-proficient students in significant numbers.

Currently, less than one percent of Oregon high school graduates have studied Mandarin, and most of those are far from proficient. At the university level, less than two percent of undergraduates now study Mandarin, and in the 2003-04 academic year only 35 of the 79,558 students (0.044%) in the Oregon University System studied abroad in China. These are not the statistics of an educational system preparing students for the twenty-first century or to engage a rising China constructively.

Oregon’s failure to offer and promote proficiency in Chinese language and cultural studies will have dire consequences in the decades ahead. For better or worse, China is destined to be America’s most important and pivotal economic and security relationship in the 21st century.

A National Bureau of Economic Research working paper recently (June 2007) forecast a Chinese economy three times the size of the U.S. economy by 2040. Its authors stated, “Indeed, the Chinese market in 2040 by itself will probably be larger than the combined markets of the U.S., the EU15, India, and Japan.” More recently in December, the World Bank revised downward by forty percent the current “purchasing-power parity” GDP of China. Even with this forty percent current devaluation, using the working paper’s economic growth rates, China would still have an estimated economy twice the size of the U.S. economy in 2040. If China can continue to sustain its high economic growth rates year after year, the Chinese economy will become enormous.

Strategically, the book China, the Balance Sheet, published jointly by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Institute for International Economics, sums up China’s importance to us by stating:

The direction that China and the U.S.-China relations take will define the strategic future of the world for years to come. No relationship matters more — for better of for worse — in resolving the enduring challenges of our time: maintaining stability among great powers, sustaining global economic growth, stemming dangerous weapons proliferation, countering terrorism, and confronting new transnational threats of infectious disease, environmental degradation, international crime, and failing states.

So what did the 2007 Oregon Legislative Session do to prepare Oregon students to compete in a world where China is the powerhouse? The House passed HR 3 which urged “Oregon universities, community colleges and secondary schools to encourage Oregon students to learn Mandarin Chinese and to explore opportunities to study in China.” The House Education Committee held one hearing on China and Higher Education and passed HB 2763, which would have allocated $350,000 to develop Mandarin programs in K-12 statewide. Unfortunately, HB 2763 was unfunded and died when the session ended.

Nevertheless, some progress in Chinese Immersion is being made. The University of Oregon and the Portland Public Schools are developing the national model K-16 Mandarin program. Its Mandarin immersion program starts with half-day Mandarin, half-day English program in kindergarten and progresses to some college study in China. Although limited, this is a meaningful start.

In sum, Oregon education has taken small steps toward preparing the rising generation to participate in a Chinese-dominated world market, but we must lengthen our stride. We know generally what to do. We know we need to start students as early as possible, immerse them as much as possible, and eventually provide opportunities for them to spend time in China. We should create incentives for school districts to offer Chinese language classes and to attract students to take them. With a bill like HB 2763 and some funds for immersion start-ups, Oregon could begin to build Mandarin programs all across the state. We could use real-time audio-visual distance learning technology to provide classes to smaller, rural school districts.

We could cut through “red tape” and provide graduate level exchange student scholarships for Chinese students to study part-time at Oregon universities while teaching Chinese part-time in Oregon public schools. Similar scholarships could be provided for Oregon graduate students to do the same in China. Chinese leaders in Fujian Province””Oregon’s sister-state””are ready, willing and able to join Oregon leaders in developing an Oregon-China student “teaching while learning” exchange program. Such an exchange program was informally discussed last November during the 2007 Oregon-China Legislative Trade Mission.

In conclusion, the growing dominance of China economically and in every other way is undeniable. Oregon has the opportunity and the challenge to prepare our next generation of business and government leaders to have the language and cultural skills necessary to understand and communicate with their Chinese counterparts. By making Chinese Immersion a top priority for Oregon education, we will extend a hand of friendship, understanding and invitation across the Pacific, and prepare Oregon’s rising generation to not only participate, but be leaders in the changing world of the 21st century.


Rep. Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point) serves Oregon’s Fourth District, has visited China numerous times, and co-chaired the recent 2007 Oregon-China Legislative Trade Mission. Dave Porter, a retired health administrator, lives in SE Portland and has promoted more Mandarin in Oregon public schools since the summer of 2006.

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Posted by at 04:59 | Posted in Measure 37 | 30 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Jerry

    Why don’t you address the fact that Oregon allows students to get a high school diploma with only two years of math?? That is a more serious problem than the foreign language one, although both are serious problems.

    If rep Richardson actually cared he would be responding to Oregon’s 49th out of 50 state ranking in the Education Week study. That is why we can’t compete internationally. It has nothing to do with China or foreign language. If you are next to last in the nation in public education you are going to have a hard time competing with Cambodia, much less China.

    This guy never reads the posts to what he writes, though, so once again it is simply a sound bite to him and a disaster for the Oregon students.

    • Dave Porter

      Jerry, as a co-author of this post, let me make a few comments in reply:
      (1) I myself come at this issue from a mostly foreign policy perspective, not a general education one. The significant question I ask myself is what are the skills our next generations are going to need to be successful in the international system. At the top of the list, the very highest priority, are proficiencies in foreign languages and knowledge of foreign cultures. The next generations will live in a smaller, more interconnected world.
      (2) I am not for every student studying Mandarin, or even mandating more foreign languages in general. I would like to see Oregon go from having less than 1% of its students studying Mandarin, but even fewer becoming proficient, to having 5% of our high school graduates proficient in Mandarin.
      (3) Mandarin is a difficult language. The Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, divides the languages they teach into four groups, from easiest to most difficult, as measured by the number of hours of instruction required to bring students to a certain level of proficiency. Chinese is in Group IV, the most difficult, along with Arabic, Japanese, and Korean. They estimate it takes 1320 hours of instruction for a student reach a level 2 speaking proficiency. For Spanish, a Group I language, 480 hours of instruction are required to reach the same speaking proficiency level. So two years of Mandarin in high school, especially if not followed up, might be a waste of time.
      (4) Not all students need to learn the same skills. I support waiving, if needed, some of the current high school graduation requirements (like math) for a student who has spent time (one month to an academic year) studying Mandarin in China. I think we need to find ways to pay for sending some of our high school and college students to study in China. For me, it is the highest educational priority in preparing the next generations. We also need more engineers and scientists, but that does not mean every student needs more math.

      • Jerry

        I could not agree more – excpet there is no need to waive any current requirements. If the students can’t figure out that this could help them in their career then they won’t benefit from having math waived to learn a foreign language. Trust me on that.

        A much better idea would be that the students spend one full school year minimum in China, not only learning the language but learning everything else that is taught there.

        If students were willing to do this I think Oregon should be willing to reward them with a full ride their first year to any Oregon supported university. They would have to successfully complete the China experience to get the scholarship and pass a spoken and written test in the language they learned to get the scholarship.

        The scholarship could be renewed for all who maintain a 3.0 or higher. This would not be that costly and would certainly work if tried.

        NOW you have an idea worth pursuing. You have to make the incentives REAL before anyone will jump at them. Any kid can not take the math classes now…many don’t…we have a 25% drop out rate.

        INCENTIVISE heavily what you want to happen and it will happen.

        I hope you can embrace my idea and move it forward soon. It is an excellent idea.

        • Dave Porter

          I like your idea. I, too, believe in incentives. One incentive I have advocated to get high school students to study Mandarin is a “take Mandarin for an academic year and we will send you to China for a month in the summer to study Mandarin and live with a family” program. It would both gives students an incentive and send them to do what we want them to do. The current cost of tuition at a small language schools, chaperone (shared by a group of 15), transportation and room/board for a month in China would be a little over $3,000 per student or $50,000 per group of 15. Oregon could send 5% (1,650 students) of each graduating class each year for about $5 million per year. Oregon needs its business to step up to the future and fund privately a $50 million / 10 year program of connecting Oregon to China by sending high school students to study there in the summer. I think a business community with a vision of the future would make this a priority.

          After a student has completed a month in China, they would be ready for an academic semester or year, and, perhaps, for your incentive.l

          • Anonymous

            I like Jerrys idea also of using incentives. Incentives create goals, goals create success. Incentives should also be used in the base education. So many have no direction, no goals, goals are essential for success.

            If those goals were instilled in the students with or without rewards, their success would be their reward. Their success would carry them as far as they can dream to go, providing they know where they want to end up, whether it be in China or just staying in the us.

            This has been enlightening to me. Things I hadn’t thought of.

            Thank you

  • John Fairplay

    Well, that’s pretty harsh. Does addressing one problem necessarily mean one is unconcerned with another problem?

    The problems with Oregon’s schools – including their lack of flexibility in responding to the changing international situation – are legion. They can’t be addressed in one blog post, lest it be 10,000 pages long. This is one post dealing with one problem. Get a grip.

  • Jerry

    I have a grip, thank you very much, and I stand by what I said. It was not in the least bit harsh. If anything, it wasn’t harsh enough.

  • Carla

    I see this as yet another dose of basless meddling mascarading as educatin reform.

    4) Not all students need to learn the same skills. I support waiving, if needed, some of the current high school graduation requirements (like math) for a student who has spent time (one month to an academic year) studying Mandarin in China.

    Oregon graduation requirements for math leave no room for waiving any of them.

    Without any emerging emphasis on the basics across the board the collective mediocrite of schools will disallow any reforms such as this to grab hold and deliver a net benfit.
    This is nothintg but rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.

    As usual, for every dime and minute that is divereted to this new emphasis those same dimes and minutes will be taken from classrooms where they cannot be afforded.

    Oregon students, our education system and our economy would best be served by adopting and strenghtening effective reading and math programs while resisiting efforts to further meddle with the latest fad.

    I understand the theory and concern behind By Rep. Dennis Richardson and David Porter but we must first establish a strong basic education as the gensis for what they advocate.
    Far more productive than diverting exisitng school resources into another idea would be to advance more students, at all levels, to higher levels of acheivement. Not by CIMCAM-like experiments but by focusing on the real seeds to higher learning. Solid fundementals.

    If By Rep. Dennis Richardson and David Porter want to see more Oregon students emerging with better skills for tomorrow’s economy
    they need to look at getting rid of the past bad ideas still in our schools.

    • dmf

      Math is essential, sports are not, to an education. All students, in fact, I would say a small percentage, will not use much in the way of foriegn languages. It still should be available to them if they want it, as there are tremendous opportunities for those who are proficient in a foreign language.

      It is essential to understand and be aware of other countries culture and history as well as our own. Much more so than their language.

      Before knowledge of another countries culture could be very helpful, a knowledge of our own countries culture and history would be the most beneficial. We need to know who we are before we know who somebody else is. That is no longer being taught.

      Then language, except in some instances, wouldn’t be so necessary as most other countries already speak english.

      How wonderful though if our kids could be bi-lingual as are so many other cultures.

    • Dave Porter

      Carla, who can disagree with the need for solid fundamentals. But the argument for more Mandarin is not just based on tomorrow’s economy (although a market potentially two or three times the size of the US market during the lifetime of today’s students is significant), but also on the need to do our best to avoid war with China, and to prepare for one if it comes. And, as the quote in our post from “China, the Balance Sheet” indicates, China is key to dealing successfully with a long list of international issues.l

  • Carla

    Dave,
    I understand.

    I just don’t agree that new Mandarin reaps the NET payback you think it will. I believe like other similarly well intended ideas, neither the diverting of resources or the perpetual need to strengthen our fundementals has been considered.

    I don’t believe you are taking into consideration the bigger picture as I stated up thread.

    Of course there is value in the addition of Mandarin speaking graduates. However there is more value in have more and brighter graduates entering the global economy.
    Having bright and savvy young adults with solid, applicable majors under their belts, even if mimited to english, will deliver more of what you seek. In additton, other graduates, across spectrum of performance, who may not enter the fields of global economic
    concern will benefit our own economy and strengthen our country.

    All things considered I agree with your concern but much can and should be done to enhance the effectiveness of education system starting with core subjects. Elevated reading skills triggers enormous opportunities and acheivement across the board. Math is crucial to
    the plethera of engineering demands the global economy is generating.
    And it is vital that we purge our system of the bad and the ugly programs.
    To know where we are and how effective we can be the unrelaible State Assessments must be scrapped and replaced with nationally nomred tests.
    It’s not enough to get rid of the CIMCAM debackle, the State tests must go.

  • Friends of Meatpuppet

    If sleepy ted would stop coddling the illegal mexicans we could get back to the global economy and the real players (like China) We could learn chinese and the such.

    • CRAWDUDE

      Yes, I wonder what the schools could do with that 10-15% of their budgets they end up spending on educating illegals.

  • Carla

    Whatever the expense on illegals, there’s another 10-15% of their budgets wasted on unneeded programs and ineffective programs.

    Even Bilingual ed is a costly loser and should be replaced with proven emersion. But here again liberal democrats defend and perpetuate failure. A problem duplicated over and over again throughout our education system.

    Instead of dreaming up NEW programs and mandates Republicans should champion the purging of bad existing programs.

    The result would be a windfall of existing resources freed up for worthy efforts. Replace bilingual ed with emersion English, fund the Mandarin ed with some of the savings and re-position Republicans has champions of effective public education.

    Weed out the garden before planting anything new.

  • Manning

    I applaud any and all efforts to work towards greater connection to China. I’ve lived here (in China) for more than 4 years now, and have been studying the language and culture (as has my son). All I can say is, China is moving! Overnight (literally) they can change a broken down ugly street into a modern tree lined avenue. I’ve seen it happen countless times. And if you want to talk about math, yah. China does math like I’ve never seen. Go into a middle school classroom and you’ll see math most university grads in the States wouldn’t know what to do with. Understanding China is more than just language, but you all know that. Kids have got to come here, and really absorb the culture, the spirit. And they’ve got to start early. That $3000 mentioned above (see #1.1.1.1) is for a summer program, but perhaps it could be a longer program without much cost increase. So many people here would love to have a foreign kid come live with them for a year. It’s not hard to find. There is no greater honor to the Chinese than to receive an honored guest. And if American kids came here, they might even catch on fire about really knowing math, and return home and choose to accelerate their own studies. I think there is nothing to lose by pushing Mandarin into Oregon schools. It’s a win-win situation. And I think it’s important to remember that we’re not in a discussion about getting ahead – we’re in a discussion about how to catch up. Because China is moving, in every way imaginable. China is the future, and no one can change that.

    • Jerry

      Here you go folks. From someone on the ground supporting my idea of a longer stay with more than just language study.
      This is the way to go.
      Rep Richardson – you can start working on this right now and have it in place quickly. One year abroad studying in China = one year full college tuition in Oregon. And this year could be any year – it would not have to be high school.
      Let’s make it happen rather than just talk about it.

      • dean

        “China is the future…”. low wages, no unions, no freedom of the press, 1 political party, thousands of political prisoners, overcrowded, the worst pollution in the world, the state makes family planning decisions, and rampant, unregulated capitalism.

        I’ll tell you what…if we keep electing Republicans in this country China will indeed be our future folks.

        • CRAWDUDE

          Dean, you’re bias is showing through again, perhaps instead of denegrating an entire party you should do as I and refer to particular people beliefs, such as liberal, conservatives, Libertarians etc…

          Remember, there are 4 registered Democrats in this country to every 1 Republican, no Republican would ever be elected nationally if registered Democrats didn’t cross lines and vote for them.

          As far as the rest of your comment, both major parties share the blame for the loss of personnal freedoms in this country.

          • dean

            CD…did I ever say I was not biased? I’m biased to be open minded and empirical. And when that fails I go with the Dems.

            I don’t know where you got the 4 Dem to1 Rep figure. I’ll bet a micro brew it is closer to:
            72 million registered Dems
            55 million registered Reps
            42 million registered Indies
            (according to USA Today, using 2004 statistics)

            But on your larger point I agree. Both parties tend towards restricting some freedoms while rolling back restrictions on others. It is the tug and pull that keeps our lives interesting. At the moment I think we need a strong tug left to avoid those aspects of the China experience I noted. If we get tugged too far left I’ll vote the other way….based on empirical results of course.

          • CRAWDUDE

            4 to 1 was something I heard years ago. I haven’t researched it so it may have changed. At one time the south was totally Democrat so it may be dated material. I’ll se what I can dig up 🙂

          • CRAWDUDE

            A little closer than my estimate but the point still works out the same way. Candidates and Issues are drawn apart on Liberal and Conservative views, not political parties. Though I will admit many flock to the party closest to their beliefs. There are liberal Repuplican and many conservative democrats……..as the current voting trends in the southern states can attest to.

            ‘An estimated 201.5 million U.S. citizens age 18 or over will be
            eligible to vote Nov. 2, although many are not now registered. Of
            these, about 55 million are registered Republicans. About 72 million
            registered Democrats.
            About 42 million are registered as independents, under some other
            minor party or with a “No Party” designation.’

          • dean

            CD…you saved yourself a brewskie by doing your homework!

            Liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats are endangered species. Every Republican running has to repeat how “conservative” they are every 5 minutes. It is weird. They are all Ronald Reagan. If they stray an inch they are declared apostate “Rhinos.” It would be truly joyfull to watch the Rs self destruct if they were not taking the ship of state with them over the clliff. Read the Sunday NY Times Magazine on our shrinking status in the world and you’ll get the picture. Our “stimulus package” will be borrowed from China to be spent on Chinese made products so that they can reinvest in our banks to keep them afloat. How stupid is that? Sustainable? Not. If we borrowed their money and built something useful for our future, that might make sense.

          • CRAWDUDE

            The stimulus package is a joke………….and might I add, Bipartisan. If my pay goes down, how does charging up my credit charge make it go back up? The market drop was normal , it happens every so often. The FED rate change might have been a decent ploy but this stimulus package won’t have any affect except to placade a handful of hysterical “the sky is falling” type.

            Oil had actually dropped to $88 a barrel before our oh so wise leaders decide to help keep its price artifically high by mortgaging what slight fiscal future we had left. Let everything drop to the levels they should be at. With a 20% market correction, we would have seen $50 a barrel oil prices…………the good with the bad.

            You are incorrect that the GOP is still the party of Reagan, many national figures have no idea where they stand on ideals that once meant something to the party. No my friend, the GOP has taken a major turn left , what you don’t like is that you are now seeing yourself in not only the DNC mirror but the GOP one also. You have met the enemy and he is you.

            Due to the same situation, I have been relegated to the description you mentioned a couple months ago ” The United States of Me”.

            Anyway, time for breakfast, have a great Sunday!

          • dean

            CD….in defense of the indefensible, there is a legitimate fear of an Argentinian style full bore credit collapse over the subprime fiasco. We may be teetering on the edge of serious depression, not simply a “correction.” I don’t know enough about financial markets to predict, but Bernanke does. He probably knows more about the causes and issues around the depression of the 30s than anyone on the planet.

            But he and Bush and my wobbly-kneed Democrats are trying to prop up a falling giant with a corn stalk. If the giant sees the corn stalk and thinks it might prevent his falling, then he might regain balance on his own. If he actually grabs and leans on the corn stalk, he falls, and we fall with him or may be crushed by him.

            From my perspective the GOP has turned left, right, and center all at once, is spinning about madly and no one knows where it will end up. A McCain-Huckabee ticket, my present prediction, will continue to try going everywhere at once, and won’t get elected.

            But the future is likely left at least 1 or 2 notches from where we are. So hunker down in your backyard bunker, or move yourself to Seasesh Ideeho, get a gun, a dog,a pickup, a generator, fill up the buried gas tank, stock lots of canned food and a buy a shortwave.

            I’ll be sipping micros, good wine and coffee here in liberal land while you wait out the approach of the starving urban hordes.

        • Steve Buckstein

          Dean, it strikes me that you’re pretty down on the biggest leftist country in the world. Last time I checked, the political elite in China were pretty much all Communists, not Reaganites.

          I’m not sure how you see China ever evolving into a high wage, unions if they want them, free press, multi-party, no political prisoner, low pollution, no state interference with family planning, country other than by moving toward capitalism. The “rampant and unregulated” part is in the eye of the beholder, but I’ll take it over total state control of the economy any day.

          • dean

            Steve…I’m a liberal, not a communist. So farther left is not necessarily an improvement once you pass a certain point.

            I’m glad China has opened up, and am glad for its people that they are growing more prosperous from a very low base. But the model they have chosen is a completely autocratic political control over a completely unregulated market. This leaves working people with no recourse except to take the jobs that are there and don’t dare to anything to try and get wages raised. This has led to a few millionnaires and billionaires with little improvement in teh lives of the many. Hardly socialist.

            I would say the state is controlling the workers, but not the capitalists. If that is an absence of state control, it is a curious one.

          • Steve Buckstein

            Good points, Dean. I assume that China is controlling the workers, and I frankly don’t know enough about what, if any, controls it has on the capitalists. Hopefully, simply opening up to the outside world will pressure it into having more respect for both worker and human rights.

            And, the fact that it appears to be “hardly socialist” is not surprising to me. Most countries that call themselves socialist are probably more like Orwell’s Animal Farm, where all animals are supposed to be equal, but some are more equal than others.

          • dean

            Steve…I would say history has shown that completely communist systems have trouble generating wealth, civil rights are squashed, and a political elite ends up with more of what little there is. Orwell had that about right. I would also say pure capitalist systems (American and Britain, 19th-early 20th centuries) showed that wealth is generated but not very distributed, leading to serious poverty and social problems. So Dickens had that about right.

            As I’ve said before, mixed systems, imperfect as they are, seem to have the best overall results; economic growth, political freedom, and shared prosperity. The challenge is finding the sweet spot between too much capitalism versus too much socialism. Maybe China will evolve in that direction, but if Singapore is a guide, I’m not holding my breath. They could continue with autocratic rule and have capitalism for many decades. But lets none of us confuse that with freedom.

          • Steve Buckstein

            Dean, I’ll simply say that “finding the sweet spot between too much capitalism versus too much socialism” is an exercise I’ll leave to you. You seem to find lots of value in each system, and just want to moderate the excesses. I, on the other hand, see little value in socialism and lots of value in capitalism. Of course, I assume that neither of us have much influence on Chinese policy, so we’ll probably stick to influencing policy closer to home.

          • dean

            Steve…thanks for an excellant summary of our different view of things. Unfortunately it is more likely China will be influencing our behavior (by holding our debt) than the other way around.

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