Does Shanghai Really have the World’s Best School System? Part 2 of 3

How did China’s city of Shanghai beat out everyone else in the world with such a dramatic 1st place average on the 2012 international PISA test?

First, the 15 year olds in Shanghai that took the PISA test had to rank high on another test just to get into high school (grades 10, 11 and 12) so they were already great test takers, the best in their generation and China has almost 200 million students in its public schools.

You see, students that graduate from middle school (grades 7, 8 and 9) in China have to take the senior high school entrance exam known as Zhongkao. Students that fail this high school entrance exam are not allowed to graduate from junior high school, and they do not get into any academic senior high schools.

Second, Asia Society.org reports that Shanghai has the world’s best school system. “China has a long tradition of respect for education. In fact, there is much societal and family pressure to do well academically. This has fostered education reform throughout history at many levels. While the entire country has made strides in education, Shanghai is at the forefront as it has been given special authority to experiment with reform before the rest of the country. … One interesting strategy employed by Shanghai (that the United States is not doing) to improve weak schools is the commissioned education program. Under this scheme, top performing schools are assigned a weak school to administer. The ‘good’ school will send a team of teachers and a principal to lead the school and improve it.”

To explain how this works, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has acknowledged a “9-6-3 rule”. This means that nine of ten children began primary school between the ages of 6 and 7; six complete the first five years and three graduate from sixth grade with good performance. The 3 of 10 that graduate from 6th grade are allowed to go on to grades 7, 8 and 9.

For a comparison to the United States, in the U.S. in 2015, 82 percent of 17/18 year olds graduated on time from academic high schools, because education is mandatory to 12th grade instead of 9th grade like it is in China.  Students that continue beyond 9th grade in China want to keep learning. To be clear, it isn’t mandatory past 9th grade.

By the time a student reaches senior high school—grades 10, 11, and 12—most enrollment is in the cities and not in rural China. Many rural Chinese don’t value education as much as urban Chinese do. Many of the migrant urban workers from rural China still have some family back in the village where they often leave their younger children. In fact, many of the migrant workers, when they retire from factory work, return to the village and the family home.

The United States, by comparison, keeps most kids in school until the end of high school at age 17/18, and another 10 percent earn a high school diploma or equivalent GED by age 24. This all takes place in academic schools, because there are no vocational public schools in the U.S.

Continued with Part 3 on August 18, 2016 or start with Part 1

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

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