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New York Times reporter Javier Hernandez interveiws REAP's director Scott Rozelle for an edition of Sinosphere. To read the original article, click here.

Nothing stirs passions quite like the debate over the Chinese school system. Critics say it is a test-obsessed bureaucracy that produces students who excel at reciting facts but not much else. Others argue that it is equipping children with exceptionally strong skills, particularly in math and science. Scott Rozelle, a Stanford University economist who runs a rural education program in China, is an author of a new study that challenges popular conceptions of Chinese schools. In a recent conversation, he discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the Chinese education system, as well as the advice he would offer the country’s leaders.
Your study finds that Chinese students begin college with some of the strongest critical thinking skills in the world, far outpacing their peers in the United States and Russia. But they lose that advantage after two years. What is going on?
It’s a good news, bad news story. The good news: Whatever the heck they do in high school, whether you like it or not, they are teaching massive numbers of kids math, physics and some type of critical thinking skills. What drives me crazy is they’re not learning anything in college. There are no incentives for the kids to work hard. Everyone graduates.
Why are high schools doing a better job than colleges?
In high school, parents provide oversight. If they don’t think their kid’s being pushed hard, they’re the first ones on the phone, the first ones standing at the teacher’s desk. From the teacher’s view, they have a huge incentive to get their students through the curriculum and get through the tests.
Say you are appointed to lead a university in China. What is the first thing you change?
In the United States, we get rewarded for good teaching. Your promotions and salary raises depend on you getting good evaluations from students, on performing well in the classroom and winning awards. That’s every bit as important as publishing research. In China, that’s not happening. The professors we work with say, “Why should we push the kids if they’re going to graduate anyway?”
A lot of criticism inside and outside of China focuses on the gaokao, the national exam that Chinese students spend years cramming for because it is the main criterion for getting into college. Some people say it is killing creativity. Is it time for change?
We plan to study creativity in our next round of exams, and it will be very interesting to see how the Chinese and the other East Asian students perform. A lot of people would say the gaokao is a fair system. Some reforms are needed for the one-test-score-does-all model. We need to reduce the pressure somewhat and to focus teaching on producing better-rounded children.
If you were in a room with China’s top leaders, what advice would you give them about the education system?
I’d ask: “Why isn’t everybody going to high school? How do we get everybody to go to high school?” It’s a rural problem. Then you ask yourself, “Why aren’t these rural kids going to high school?” Well, it’s because 10, 15, 20 percent of them drop out of junior high school. They aren’t even finishing junior high.
What is happening in middle school?
This isn’t India, where half the teachers are absent, or Africa, where they haven’t been able to improve the quality of teaching. In China, you’ve got good facilities and good teachers. The curriculum in rural areas is the same as the best that’s taught to the city kids. So what is it?
What our work shows very clearly is that it’s really the matter of the individual kids in rural areas. They’re sick. They’ve got uncorrected myopia, malnutrition, anemia and intestinal worms. Forty percent of children in our sample in Guizhou have worms in their stomach. How do you study in elementary school if you’ve got worms in your stomach?
At the same time, prosperity is rising and China has become more urban.
This is the irony. They have the fastest-growing economy in terms of wealth in Asia. But the kids are a victim of China’s own success. China really grew so fast, and they’ve invested in resources and teachers. But they’ve left behind the human element.
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The New York Times writes about REAP's research on comparing the quality of a college education accross China, Russia and the U.S. To read the original article, click here.

BEIJING — Chinese primary and secondary schools are often derided as grueling, test-driven institutions that churn out students who can recite basic facts but have little capacity for deep reasoning.

A new study, though, suggests that China is producing students with some of the strongest critical thinking skills in the world.

But the new study, by researchers at Stanford University, also found that Chinese students lose their advantage in critical thinking in college. That is a sign of trouble inside China’s rapidly expanding university system, which the government is betting on to promote growth as the economy weakens.

The study, to be published next year, found that Chinese freshmen in computer science and engineering programs began college with critical thinking skills about two to three years ahead of their peers in the United States and Russia. Those skills included the ability to identify assumptions, test hypotheses and draw relationships between variables.

Yet Chinese students showed virtually no improvement in critical thinking after two years of college, even as their American and Russian counterparts made significant strides, according to the study.

“It’s astounding that China produces students that much further ahead at the start of college,” said Prashant Loyalka, an author of the study. “But they’re exhausted by the time they reach college, and they’re not incentivized to work hard.”

The findings are preliminary, but the weakness in China’s higher education system is especially striking because Chinese leaders are pressing universities to train a new generation of highly skilled workers and produce innovations in science and technology to serve as an antidote to slowing economic growth.

But many universities, mired in bureaucracy and lax academic standards, have struggled. Students say the energetic and demanding teaching they are accustomed to in primary and secondary schools all but disappears when they reach college.

“Teachers don’t know how to attract the attention of students,” said Wang Chunwei, 22, an electrical engineering student at Tianjin Chengjian University, not far from Beijing. “Listening to their classes is like listening to someone reading out of a book.”

Others blame a lack of motivation among students. Chinese children spend years preparing for the gaokao, the all-powerful national exam that determines admission to universities in China. For many students, a few points on the test can mean the difference between a good and a bad university, and a life of wealth or poverty.
When students reach college, the pressure vanishes.

“You get a degree whether you study or not, so why bother studying?” said Wang Qi, 24, a graduate student in environmental engineering in Beijing.

In addition to examining critical thinking skills, the study looked at how Chinese students compared in math and physics. While testing for the United States is not yet available, the researchers found that Chinese students arrived at college with skills far superior to their Russian counterparts.

After two years of college, though, the Chinese students showed virtually no improvement while the Russians made substantial progress, though not enough to catch up.

The Stanford researchers suspect the poor quality of teaching at many Chinese universities is one of the most important factors in the results. Chinese universities tend to reward professors for achievements in research, not their teaching abilities. In addition, almost all students graduate within four years, according to official statistics, reducing the incentive to work hard.

“They don’t really flunk anyone,” said Scott Rozelle, an economist who has studied Chinese education for three decades and a co-author of the study. “The contract is, if you got in here, you get out.”

The problems plaguing the higher education system have taken on new urgency as China’s ruling Communist Party tries to navigate a difficult transition from an economy fueled by manufacturing and assembly-line work to one led by growth in fields such as information technology and clean energy.

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Please note: the start time for this event has been moved from 3:00 to 3:15pm.

Join FSI Director Michael McFaul in conversation with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. They will address the role of entrepreneurship in creating stable, prosperous societies around the world.

Richard Stengel Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Special Guest United States Department of State

Encina Hall
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Stanford, CA 94305-6055

Director, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
Ken Olivier and Angela Nomellini Professor of International Studies, Department of Political Science
Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution

Michael McFaul is Director at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, the Ken Olivier and Angela Nomellini Professor of International Studies in the Department of Political Science, and the Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He joined the Stanford faculty in 1995.

Dr. McFaul also is as an International Affairs Analyst for NBC News and a columnist for The Washington Post. He served for five years in the Obama administration, first as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council at the White House (2009-2012), and then as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation (2012-2014).

He has authored several books, most recently the New York Times bestseller From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia. Earlier books include Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should, How We Can; Transitions To Democracy: A Comparative Perspective (eds. with Kathryn Stoner); Power and Purpose: American Policy toward Russia after the Cold War (with James Goldgeier); and Russia’s Unfinished Revolution: Political Change from Gorbachev to Putin.

His current research interests include American foreign policy, great power relations, and the relationship between democracy and development. Dr. McFaul was born and raised in Montana. He received his B.A. in International Relations and Slavic Languages and his M.A. in Soviet and East European Studies from Stanford University in 1986. As a Rhodes Scholar, he completed his D. Phil. in International Relations at Oxford University in 1991. He is currently writing a book on great power relations in the 21st century.



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Steve Fyffe
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The United States has a growing inventory of spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants that continues to accumulate at reactor sites around the country.

In addition, the legacy waste from U.S. defense programs remains at Department of Energy sites around the country, mainly at Hanford, WA, Savannah River, SC, and at Idaho National Laboratory.

But now the U.S. nuclear waste storage program is “frozen in place”, according to Rod Ewing, Frank Stanton professor in nuclear security at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.

“The processing and handling of waste is slow to stopped and in this environment the pressure has become very great to do something.”

Currently, more than seventy thousand metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from civilian reactors is sitting in temporary aboveground storage facilities spread across 35 states, with many of the reactors that produced it shut down.  And U.S. taxpayers are paying the utilities billions of dollars to keep it there.

Meanwhile, the deep geologic repository where all that waste was supposed to go, in Yucca Mountain Nevada, is now permanently on hold, after strong resistance from Nevada residents and politicians led by U.S. Senator Harry Reid.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad New Mexico, the world’s first geologic repository for transuranic waste, has been closed for over a year due to a release of radioactivity.

And other parts of the system, such as the vitrification plant at Hanford and the mixed oxide fuel plant at Savannah River , SC, are way behind schedule and over budget.

It’s a growing problem that’s unlikely to change this political season.

“The chances of dealing with it in the current Congress are pretty much nil, in my view,” said former U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM).

“We’re not going to see a solution to this problem this year or next year.”

The issue in Congress is generally divided along political lines, with Republicans wanting to move forward with the original plan to build a repository at Yucca Mountain, while Democrats support the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future to create a new organization to manage nuclear waste in the U.S. and start looking for a new repository location using an inclusive, consent-based process.

“One of the big worries that I have with momentum loss is loss of nuclear competency,” said David Clark, a Fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“So we have a whole set of workers who have been trained, and have been working on these programs for a number of years. When you put a program on hold, people go find something else to do.”

Meanwhile, other countries are moving ahead with plans for their own repositories, with Finland and Sweden leading the pack, leaving the U.S. lagging behind.

So Ewing decided to convene a series of high-level conferences, where leading academics and nuclear experts from around the world can discuss the issues in a respectful environment with a diverse range of stakeholders – including former politicians and policy makers, scientists and representatives of Indian tribes and other effected communities.

“For many of these people and many of these constituencies, I’ve seen them argue at length, and it’s usually in a situation where a lot seems to be at stake and it’s very adversarial,” said Ewing.

“So by having the meeting at Stanford, we’ve all taken a deep breath, the program is frozen in place, nothing’s going to go anywhere tomorrow, we have the opportunity to sit and discuss things. And I think that may help.”

Former Senator Bingaman said he hoped the multidisciplinary meetings, known at the “Reset of Nuclear Waste Management Strategy and Policy Series”, would help spur progress on this pressing problem.

“There is a high level of frustration by people who are trying to find a solution to this problem of nuclear waste, and there’s no question that the actions that we’ve taken thus far have not gotten us very far,” Bingaman said.

“I think that’s why this conference that is occurring is a good thing, trying to think through what are the problems that got us into the mess we’re in, and how do we avoid them in the future.”

The latest conference, held earlier this month, considered the question of how to structure a new nuclear waste management organization in the U.S.

Speakers from Sweden, Canada and France brought an international perspective and provided lessons learned from their countries nuclear waste storage programs.

“The other…major programs, France, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Canada, they all reached a crisis point, not too different from our own,” said Ewing.

“And at this crisis point they had to reevaluate how they would go forward. They each chose a slightly different path, but having thought about it, and having selected a new path, one can also observe that their programs are moving forward.”

France has chosen to adopt a closed nuclear cycle to recycle spent fuel and reuse it to generate more electricity.

“It means that the amount of waste that we have to dispose of is only four percent of the total volume of spent nuclear fuel which comes out of the reactor,” said Christophe Poinssot of the French Atomic and Alternative Energy Commission.

“We also reduce the toxicity because…we are removing the plutonium. And finally, we are conditioning the final waste under the form of nuclear glass, the lifetime of which is very long, in the range of a million years in repository conditions.”

Clark said that Stanford was the perfect place to convene a multidisciplinary group of thought leaders in the field who could have a real impact on the future of nuclear waste storage policy.

“The beauty of a conference like this, and holding it at a place like Stanford University and CISAC, is that all the right people are here,” he said.

“All the people who are here have the ability to influence, through some level of authority and scholarship, and they’ll be able to take the ideas that they’ve heard back to their different offices and different organizations.  I think it will make a difference, and I’m really happy to be part of it.”

Ewing said it was also important to include students in the conversation.

“There’s a next generation of researchers coming online, and I want to save them the time that it took me to realize what the problems are,” Ewing said.

“By mixing students into this meeting, letting them interact with all the parties, including the distinguished scientists and engineers, I’m hoping it speeds up the process.”

Professor Ewing is already planning his next conference, next March, which will focus on the consent-based process that will be used to identify a new location within the U.S. for a repository.

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Insider threats to American national security pose a potent and growing danger. In the past five years, trusted US military and intelligence insiders have been responsible for the Wikileaks publication of thousands of classified reports, the worst intelligence breach in National Security Agency history, the deaths of a dozen Navy civilians and contractors at the Washington Navy Yard, and two attacks at Fort Hood that together killed sixteen people and injured more than fifty.

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The US Army War College Quarterly Parameters
Amy Zegart
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Steve Fyffe
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Three CISAC scientists have joined 26 of the nation’s top nuclear experts to send an open letter to President Obama in support of the Iran deal struck in July.

“The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) the United States and its partners negotiated with Iran will advance the cause of peace and security in the Middle East and can serve as a guidepost for future non-proliferation agreements,” the group of renowned scientists, academics and former government officials wrote in the letter dated August 8, 2015.

“This is an innovative agreement, with much more stringent constraints than any previously negotiated non-proliferation framework.”

CISAC senior fellow and former Los Alamos National Laboratory director Sig Hecker is a signatory to the letter, along with CISAC co-founder Sid Drell, and cybersecurity expert and CISAC affiliate Martin Hellman.

Six Nobel laureates also signed, including FSI senior fellow by courtesy and former Stanford Linear Accelerator director Burton Richter.

The letter arrives at a crucial time for the Obama administration as it rallies public opinion and lobbies Congress to support the Iran agreement.

You can read the full letter along with analysis from the New York Times at this link.

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Russ Feingold, the former U.S. senator perhaps best known for pushing campaign finance reform, will spend the spring quarter at Stanford lecturing and teaching.

Feingold will be the Payne Distinguished Lecturer and will be in residence at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies while teaching and mentoring graduate students in the Ford Dorsey Program in International Policy Studies and the Stanford Law School.

Feingold was recently the State Department’s  special envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He will bring his knowledge and longstanding interest in one of the most challenging, yet promising, places in Africa to campus with the cross-listed IPS and Law School course, “The Great Lakes Region of Africa and American Foreign Relations: Policy and Legal Implications of the Post-1994 Era.”

Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who served three terms in the Senate between 1993 and 2011, co-sponsored the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. Better known as the McCain-Feingold Act, the legislation regulated the roles of soft money contributions and issue ads in national elections.

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SIO 2022 Annual Report

The Stanford Internet Observatory launched three years ago as a cross-disciplinary laboratory for the study of abuse in current information technologies, with a focus on the misuse of social media. We launched on June 6, 2019, with an initial team of three. By the end of 2022, we had grown to a team of 11, with 356 students enroled in our courses and nearly 40 student RAs. In addition, we produced four issues of our Journal of Online Trust and Safety, authored ten journal articles, 22 op-eds, 33 blog posts and 15 white papers. The media took note as well, with nearly 5,400 media mentions.

We continue to expand on our mission to provide the policy community independent analysis on these issues with policy explainers and commentary that blends the technical and policy knowledge that decision makers need. And we will serve as connectors and conveners with a reputation for clear, timely, and trusted feedback and policy recommendations based on rigorous policy analysis and academic research.

We extend our gratitude to our faculty leads Nate PersilyDan Boneh and Jeff Hancock at the Stanford Cyber Policy Center; Michael McFaul, the director of the Freeman Spogli Institute; and our generous supporters.

The attached report shares the outputs of our research, teaching and policy work and highlights our new and refined goals as we begin 2023.

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SIO releases its annual report summarizing its first three years of research, teaching and policy and laying the path for the years to come.

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