Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Urban-rural partnerships help make Shanghai schools some of the best in the world

This editorial in today's New York Times highlights U.S. educational failures and then holds up three models from which the U.S. might learn:  Finland, Canada, and the Shanghai area of China.  The headlines for each country/region indicate what the NYTimes finds so laudable and key to the place's educational success:
  • Finland:  Teacher Training
  • Canada:  School Funding
  • Shanghai:  Fighting Elitism 
I am going to focus here on China because the specific mention of rural-urban difference there (although when it comes to improving rural education, we could certainly learn a lot from the Canadian model of more centralized, less localized funding.)  Here is how the editorial board summed up what Shanghai is doing so well.  Note the references not only to rural schools (and I'm not sure how Shanghai, as a city, has authority over "rural" schools), but also to the issue of rural-to-urban migration in China.
One of its strengths is that the city has mainly moved away from an elitist system in which greater resources and elite instructors were given to favored schools, and toward a more egalitarian, neighborhood attendance system in which students of diverse backgrounds and abilities are educated under the same roof. The city has focused on bringing the once-shunned children of migrant workers into the school system. In the words of the O.E.C.D, Shanghai has embraced the notion that migrant children are also “our children” — meaning that city’s future depends in part on them and that they, too, should be included in the educational process. Shanghai has taken several approaches to repairing the disparity between strong schools and weak ones, as measured by infrastructure and educational quality. Some poor schools were closed, reorganized, or merged with higher-level schools. Money was transferred to poor, rural schools to construct new buildings or update old ones. Teachers were transferred from cities to rural areas and vice versa. Stronger urban schools were paired with rural schools with the aim of improving teaching methods. 
The Times description goes on to note that strong Shanghai schools have been given administrative responsibility for weak schools.  In short, Shanghai educational officials are expecting that the "ethos, management style and teaching" of the strong schools can be transferred to the weak ones--and it sounds like a lot of that transfer from strong to weak is across the urban-rural divide.  

I am sure the reforms are all more complicated than depicted in this brief description, but the results speak volumes:  Shanghai's students were first in the world in math, science, and literacy in last year's  international exams.

N.B.  This was the most-emailed story in the New York Times for much of today.

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