According to reports from Xinhua:
Guangdong Experimental High School (广东实验中学) announced that not only had it completed 3 new campuses within China, but was proud to be opening the very first Chinese managed public school in Riverside, California. The move was heralded as China’s first step on to the world stage for promoting its unique style of education and overall quality. Even better, it was opened on National Day, and would soon be opening up to enroll Chinese students. This new campus/program was made possible through a relationship with the Chemax Educational Foundation, which was authorized by Guangdong Experimental High School to establish a branch in the United states.
Former Secretary of Education for the state of California, Dr. David Long, had even been on hand for the ceremony, and according to the article, was very excited by the partnership with Guangdong Experimental High School, the Guangdong Provincial Department of Education, and a Chinese-American owned foundation, Chemax. Dr. Long was quoted as saying that the Chinese managers of the school were “imaginative” and that the school would be “very popular”.
It was so important in fact, that Xinhua even had reporters on the scene (their coverage in Chinese or google translated). They fawned over future Chinese culture programs and the possibility of Kung Fu classes. Finally, American children would get to experience education with Chinese characteristics. A local student, Sarah, said that the Chinese students from Guangdong Experimental High School were the best in the class.
The new campus included classroom space for 1,300 students, basketball and tennis courts, baseball fields, etc. Everything you would expect in an American public high school.
The articles all made it clear, this was a chance to attend an American high school (Chinese link), and that this school was opened by Guangdong Experimental High School.
Alumni get suspicious
Apparently the school leaders though were a bit too imaginative, and as it turns out, the entire project was fake. Several alumni from the school contacted me with evidence they had gathered that posed serious questions about the relationship between Guangdong Experimental High School and Hillcrest High School. The most important piece of evidence though is this USA Today story groaning about the fact that Hillcrest High School wouldn’t be opening in the 2011 school year due to budget cuts.
Alvord School District also confirmed by phone that there was no such partnership. The district also stated that an earlier proposal by Loretta Huang (cited by Dr. Li Chen as evidence that the program was moving forward), was nothing more than a two-minute talk during an open forum at a school board meeting. There had been no formal presentation, nor was there further discussion of the plan (Alvord District report from that meeting). I also contacted the Riverside County Office of Education and the superintendent’s office confirmed they had sent a letter of invitation to the Guangdong delegation but due to scheduling problems, there had been no meeting with the superintendent during their trip. There were also no plans to further discuss the possibility of a partnership with Guangdong Experimental High School.
Dr. Long told me by email that he had simply been invited to visit the school with Chinese educators, but was insistent that there was no partnership with either Chemax or Guangdong Experimental High School. Dr. Long currently runs an educational consulting firm, and was an unofficial guest. He was under the impression that this was a visit to promote future educational exchanges, but was unaware that it had been spun as an actual agreement.
Chemax Educational Foundation, headed by Dr. Li Chen, doesn’t seem to be the only company operated by Dr. Chen. In fact, Chemax International, which has the same registered address, sells automotive parts (owned by Li Chen). The same office is used as the headquarters for both Green Oak Academy and Guangdong Experimental High School at the USA, both operated by Dr. Chen.
When contacted, Dr. Chen insisted that this was all the result of a cultural misunderstanding, and that there were indeed plans to begin sending students to public high schools, including Hillcrest when it opened.
However when Dr. Chen was first confronted about these problems he maintained that the school would be opened to Chinese students, and that 20% of the total number of students at the school would be foreign students selected by Guangdong Experimental High School (Chinese or Google translated).
From other documents, and photos from Chemax Educational Foundation’s Flickr stream, it seems that the programs it is running is a small private school, possibly run out of residences, meant to seem like an actual American public school to the Chinese parents who would be sending their kids across the sea. This was something I could not confirm with Dr. Chen, but these photos could relate to his Green Oak Academy.
Mr. Zhang (pseudonym) who brought this story to my attention said:
“the fact that this man named Chen Li could register a tiny company in California and go back to China telling people he’s the CEO of a multi-billion-dollar educational foundation and even the Director of California Postsecondary Education commission (Note: Dr. Li says this was again a misunderstanding caused by “cultural difference”) and, most importantly, that people actually believed him really shocked me. From what I know, this could very likely be only a tip of an iceberg of this bubbling study-abroad-in-America market in China”
I’ve heard stories from other reliable sources of “universities” being established in the US by Chinese businessmen that serve as diploma mills for undergraduate and graduate degrees. Through questionable accreditation, these schools obtain student visas for their Chinese students, and allow them to work in the US for the duration of the degree. Afterwards they return to China with coveted “international experience.”
Just yesterday one of my wife’s students told her that he was considering an opportunity to work in the US for a Chinese-American company. It sounded strange. For 10,000rmb he would be flown to the US, get approved for a visa, work for two months (with food and lodging provided) and have a month to travel as he pleased. It sounds too good to be true, especially since he would be working in a restaurant for an unspecified number of hours each day without any further payment.
Chinese parents should be exceptionally alert when choosing an American school for their child to attend. A school diploma has little value when there is no accreditation behind it. Many of China’s new middle class are desperately searching for ways to send their children abroad, but schemes like this hurt students and families while enriching a few with connections.