Chinese influence in U.S. education isn’t just at the university level

The number of Confucius Classrooms in K-12 have surpassed Confucius Institutes

Chinese language teacher Li Nana speaks during an interview with the Associated Press on May 2, 2018, at Confucius Institute at George Mason University in Fairfax, Vs., where she is a visiting teacher. U.S. lawmakers are pushing for tighter regulation or even closure of the more than 100 Chinese Confucius Institutes set up on campuses across America. (AP Photo/Matthew Pennington)

RALEIGH — What kind of influence are programs tied to the Chinese government having in North Carolina K-12 education?

Our previous article looked at the “Confucius Institutes” and zeroed in on UNC Charlotte — the one school in the state which still operates one. These institutes offer Chinese language and culture lessons; however, they are typically funded and operated on some level by the Hanban, which is an arm of the Chinese government’s Ministry of Education. The Hanban in most instances pays and screens who teaches the institute’s courses.

In our previous article on C.I.’s, the 2017 report produced by the National Association of Scholars characterized C.I.’s as weapons of soft power which adhere to Chinese law, avoid mention of Chinese political history and human rights abuses, enact China’s censorious speech preferences, and “portray Taiwan and Tibet as undisputed territories of China.”

A more recent 2019 staff report to the Subcommittee on Investigations for the U.S. Senate, titled China’s Impact on the U.S. Education System, picks up where NAS left off, noting that the Chinese government is dropping large amounts of money into K-12 classrooms in the United States.

“Since 2006, the Subcommittee determined China directly provided over $158 million in funding to U.S. schools for Confucius Institutes,” the report states. The report also says that the Hanban has “spent more than $2 billion on Confucius Institutes worldwide from 2008 to 2016” and that starting in 2017, “it no longer reports spending on the program.”

That drop in reporting coincides with Confucius Classrooms around the world, surpassing the number of Confucius Institutes. The report says that by 2017, the Hanban had established 1,113 such classrooms.  The subcommittee’s report discusses a document that lays out plans to expand Confucius Classrooms by seeking the “top-down policy support from the state government, legislative and educational institutions, with a particular emphasis on access to the support from school district superintendents and principals.”   

Circling back to UNC Charlotte’s Confucius Institute, up until 2018-19 N.C. State University had also operated a C.I., but NCSU’s program expanded to “Confucius Classrooms” which were operated at St. Augustine’s University, Central Carolina Community College and Wake Tech Community College. These Confucius Classrooms were not just for higher education, they also spanned into K-12.

According to NAS, there are roughly 500 K-12 schools in the United States that partner with the Hanban and have “Confucius Classrooms.” Before closing down their program, NCSU operated C.C.’s at two high schools, Enloe High School and Concord High School, and also ran a summer camp called “Ni Hao” Wolfpack, a “Chinese Language and Culture Camp” for kids in grades 6-12.

In North Carolina, Buncombe County Schools was found to operate seven C.C.’s located in A.C. Reynolds High School, Buncombe County Early College, Enka High School, Erwin High School, North Buncombe High School, Owen High School and T.C. Roberson High School.

Buncombe is not the only one. The state’s largest school district, Wake County Public Schools, is also entwined with C.I.’s and C.C.’s. WCPSS’s budget-request documentation for 2019-2020 that describes the Confucius grants says that four schools are a part of this grant: including Farmington Woods Magnet Elementary School, Smith Magnet Elementary School, East Garner Magnet Middle School and Garner Magnet High School. 

WCPSS’s budget document says that the district “received funds from Go Global (via the Hanban Organization) as part of a Confucius grant.” WCPSS’ budget states that, “In years past, each school received $10,000 annually. In 2017-18 and this year, the four aforementioned schools received $5,000 each.”

North State Journal reached out to WCPSS about the Confucius Classroom twice since February. On June 19, WCPSS Communications Director Tim Simmons indicated that our questions had been directed to the district’s Academics and Magnet Programs staff and that he hoped “to have at least some of the information relatively soon.” No information was received from WCPSS by press time.

The “Go Global” mentioned by Wake County is actually “Go Global NC” which was originally called the Center for International Understanding. It was established within the University of North Carolina system by former Democratic Gov. James B. Hunt, Jr. in 1979.

According to Go Global NC documentation, it is still “a public service of The University of North Carolina General Administration,” and the “Go Global NC Council” is a North Carolina nonprofit corporation qualified under Section 501(c)(3) of Go Global NC.  

The list of partners for the organization includes the Hanban along with over 230 individuals, school districts, non-profits and companies. Go Global NC’s board boasts notable names like former Associate Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, former N.C. Secretary of Commerce Jim Fain and Geoff Coltrane, the current senior education adviser to Gov. Roy Cooper.

According to the Go Global NC website, the organization currently maintains a network of K-12 schools called the “North Carolina Confucius Classrooms Collaborative” that includes “34 Confucius Classrooms in 11 partner districts, including one charter school and NCSSM that is part of the UNC System.” 

Board meeting documents located on Go Global NC’s website note the use of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) “with Jiangsu province and leadership.” The meeting minutes, which date from 2017, state, “It’s exciting to be able to share NC’s Confucius Classroom experiences – we have one of the largest Confucius Classroom networks in the country.”

North State Journal has not received a response to requests for more information about the program or request for comment on their Confucius Classrooms Collaborative from Go Global NC.

Some of the work Go Global NC has done has been as a partner of The College Board’s K-12 “Chinese Bridge Delegation,” and also seems to have paired with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction in the past. A request for more information is pending with NCDPI regarding the state’s Chinese language and culture programs and involvement with C.I.’s and C.C.’s.

About A.P. Dillon 279 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_