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Could Shanghai's School Improvement System Work Here?

Teacher mentorship programs between low and high performing schools help bring everyone in the city up to speed.


15-year-olds in Shanghai, China outscored their peers around the globe in 2010 on the Program for International Student Assessment, a test that's given every three years to measure and compare achievement. It turns out that the secret to Shanghai's success is less about competition and more about collaboration between the city's excellent schools and its subpar schools.

In the video above we see how instead of sending experts to offer advice to the staff of struggling schools on a one-off basis, a new model of forging long lasting mentoring partnerships between lower performing schools and higher performing ones has emerged. Teachers from the higher performing schools help their peers who need assistance with everything from lesson planning to classroom engagement. Given the general cultural appreciation of relationships in China, the partnerships lasts over several months or years until there's classroom improvement.

There are plenty of differences between Shanghai and cities like New York City and Los Angeles, but could this kind of long term inter-school mentorship work here in the U.S.? Given how ingrained individualism and competition is in our culture—as well as racial prejudice—it's hard to picture American teachers at a high performing, well-established school in a wealthy community being willing to spend quality time at a mostly minority, low income, low performing school in order to help it succeed. If that can't happen, what's going on in Shanghai's schools isn't something we can replicate.

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