World Bank Study Shows Shanghai’s #1 Global Ranking in Reading, Math, & Science Rests on Strong Education System with Great Teachers

May 17, 2016

SHANGHAI, May 17, 2016—A new World Bank report shows that Shanghai’s stellar performance on international tests of student learning is linked to a strong education system with efficient public financing. Shanghai’s policies and investments have created a great teacher workforce, established clear learning standards and regular student assessments, and struck a balance between autonomy and accountability in school management. The comprehensive evaluation was conducted using SABER, the World Bank’s global platform for benchmarking education systems, and complemented with detailed school surveys.

Released today, “How Shanghai Does It,” notes that the city’s education system stands out as one of the strongest in the world because it translates smart education policies into excellent learning results. Backed by this dynamic system, Shanghai has topped two consecutive rounds of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests in reading, mathematics and science. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) administers these tests to assess how well 15-year-olds have acquired the knowledge and skills needed to fully participate in knowledge-driven societies.

One of the most impressive aspects of Shanghai’s education system is the way it grooms, supports, and manages teachers, who are central to any effort to raise the education quality in schools,” said Xiaoyan Liang, the report’s lead author. “The reason the teaching profession is regarded with a lot of respect in Shanghai is not just because teachers earn reasonable, stable salaries—it is also because of how well they teach. They are true professionals.

Across the world, Shanghai also has the highest share of disadvantaged students in the top 25 percent as tested by PISA. While disadvantaged children continue to merit further attention in Shanghai, the report notes that the city has been making a serious effort to bring quality education within their reach. Among its 1.2 million basic education students in 2013, nearly half were children of migrants. About 77 percent of them were placed in public schools and the rest funded to attend private schools.

Lessons from Shanghai on how to raise learning for all students are very relevant as developing or emerging economies look for ways to produce more skilled workers,” said Harry Patrinos, World Bank Education Practice Manager for East Asia and the Pacific.

Globally, over the last decade, education efforts have focused on getting all children into primary school. Raising the quality of basic education—in terms of what children are actually learning in school—is the next big challenge worldwide. This is now part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new set of international targets adopted at the United Nations in 2015. Countries are actively exploring ways to meet the Education SDG, which calls for access to quality education and lifelong learning for all by 2030.

High quality schooling is directly linked to strong economic growth and swift poverty reduction, so insights from Shanghai’s success could go a long way in a world where as many as 250 million children cannot read or write despite having been to school,Patrinos said.

Policymakers from over 25 developing countries—including high-level delegations from Afghanistan, Brazil, and Ethiopia—are in Shanghai this week to learn more about how the education system is managed in this center of East Asian commerce and economic growth.

Teachers in the city go through rigorous pre-service training and are well supported with ongoing professional development once they begin work. Much of this takes place in schools in a collegial and supportive manner, the report finds. 

On average, teachers in Shanghai spend about a third of their time teaching in class and the rest in preparing lessons, grading homework, observing and mentoring other teachers, and engaging in other forms of professional development. They are also evaluated systematically, required to go through a year of probation, rewarded for good performance, have opportunities to move up the ladder based on merit, and are led by principals who are themselves instructional leaders.

The way Shanghai pulls up the performance of weaker schools is also interesting, according to the report.  While education financing is decentralized to the district level, the city government reserves a portion of the education tax and redistributes it with emphasis towards poor and low performing districts. 

Also, the “entrusted school” management model frequently used in Shanghai involves high-performing schools providing management and professional support to low-performing schools. The city government backs up this arrangement with substantial financial transfers based on performance. This model differs from the US charter school movement in that often excellent public schools take over low-performing schools, rather than private entities. The twinned schools form joint management and teaching teams.

The report concludes that the Shanghai education system is continuing to evolve, another of its strengths. 

"Beyond PISA, it is noteworthy that Shanghai is now examining even harder questions and challenges, such as the socio-emotional well-being of its children, global citizenship education, environmental consciousness, creativity, and innovation,” Patrinos said. “These are important skills in high demand in 21st century workplaces and all economies need to be thinking beyond literacy and cognitive skills.”


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