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Mistilina Sato

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BEST PRACTICES FROM CHINA'S HIGH-PERFORMING SCHOOL SYSTEM Empowered Educators in China is one volume in a series that explores how high-performing educational systems from around the world achieve strong results. The anchor book, Empowered Educators: How High-Performing Systems Shape Teaching Quality Around the World, is written by Linda Darling-Hammond and colleagues, with contributions from the author of this volume. Empowered Educators in China describes the nation's policy reforms that built the modern Chinese educational system and the educational practices that are considered typical in China. The book spotlights Shanghai's system which is distinctive and superior. Shanghai offers a clear illustration of an educational system that continually invests in educating a diverse student population and, by measures of international comparison tests, is achieving outstanding results. Many factors contribute to the Shanghai system's ongoing success, including the students' motivation toward strong performance, the parental support for education that is culturally ingrained throughout the country, the focus that teachers place on high expectations for students, and the individual tutoring they provide. The author argues that these factors are only a partial explanation of Shanghai's success and then closely describes educational policies that support teachers' preparation, hiring, ongoing development, and opportunities for awards and leadership. These policies are based on the assumption that teachers are key to the nation's future and must be appropriately supported in order to contribute to student performance and achievement, an assumption that is also explicitly stated within Chinese law. This volume offers specific descriptions of how these national policies are translated, adapted, and enacted in Shanghai.

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How High-Performing Systems Shape Teaching Quality

Mistilina Satowith Jiacheng Li

Copyright © 2017 by The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE). All rights reserved.

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ISBN: 9781119369653 ISBN: 9781119369660 ISBN: 9781119369639

Cover design by Wiley Cover image: © suriya9/Getty Images, Inc.




About the Sponsoring Organizations

About the Authors

Online Documents and Videos

1 The Surprising Success of Shanghai Students

This Study


2 Situating Shanghai in China’s National Education Policy Context

Education Financing in China

Building and Reforming China’s Educational System through Policy


3 China’s Educational System Today

Governance of the National Education System

The Teaching Population in China

4 Education in Shanghai

Geography and History of the City

Shanghai’s Schools and Students

Governance of the Shanghai Education System

Education Financing in Shanghai

Educational Reform Efforts in Shanghai

5 Teaching in China and Shanghai

Teaching within the Chinese Culture

Establishing Teaching as a Profession: National Teacher Laws and Regulations in the 1990s

Ensuring Ongoing Quality of Teachers: 2004 Continuing Education Requirements

Current Focus on Quality and Distribution of Teaching Expertise: Teachers in the 2020 Plan

Responding to the 2020 Plan: 2011 Teaching Standards in China

How School Structure Shapes Teachers’ Work

Teaching Practices in China

Teaching and Learning in Shanghai


6 Teacher Preparation in China and Shanghai

Teacher Preparation Minimum Expectations

Teacher Preparation Program Design

Teacher Certification Exams

Recruiting and Hiring Teachers in Shanghai

Inducting Beginning Teachers in Shanghai

7 Supporting Teacher Professional Learning in Shanghai

Teacher Professional Learning in Shanghai

Career Ladders and Leadership for Teachers

Teacher Compensation and Evaluation

8 Conclusion: How Teaching Culture, Policies, and Practices SUPPORT Student Performance



List of Tables

Chapter 7

Table 7.1 Organizing agencies of teaching activities participated in by teachers.

Table 7.2 Teachers’ research and publications.

List of Illustrations

Chapter 1

Figure 1.1 Snapshot of performance in mathematics, reading, and science

Chapter 2

Figure 2.1 Migration patterns within mainland China show the mass migration from the western rural provinces to the eastern coastal provinces

Figure 2.2 Percentage of total public expenditures for all levels of education in 2011

Figure 2.3 China’s education spending from 2002–2011 as a percentage of its GDP

Figure 2.4 China’s investment in education based on data from UNESCO shows an increase from less than $50 billion to over $250 billion USD between 2001 and 2011

Chapter 3

Figure 3.1 China’s academic education system.

Figure 3.2 Distribution of teachers at different levels of schooling in various regions

Chapter 4

Figure 4.1 16 districts and 1 county make up the province-level municipality of Shanghai.

Figure 4.2 The migration pattern for children in Shanghai shows a steady decline, reaching a low point at age 14, just before the PISA sample age of 15, when the numbers begin to increase after children have completed their nine years of compulsory education.

Chapter 5

Figure 5.1 Map of Qilun Primary School, Minhang District, Shanghai showing the school structure centered on grade level classes and teachers’ offices.

Figure 5.2 A typical school schedule for a senior secondary student.

Figure 5.3 Application of teaching methods

Figure 5.4 Lesson plan for fifth-grade mathematics lesson given at Qilun Elementary School in Minhang District, Shanghai in November 2013.

Chapter 6

Figure 6.1 Teachers’ educational background and academic degrees in various regions

Figure 6.2 Teachers’ participation in professional training before teaching at all levels of schooling

Figure 6.3 Teaching practicum assignments for third year college students at Shanghai Normal University.

Figure 6.4 Job posting for teacher applicants in Xuhui District, Shanghai.

Chapter 7

Figure 7.1 Proportion of teachers’ participation in training forms and professional development in the past two years

Figure 7.2 Teacher study group conducting a post-lesson discussion with professors from East China Normal University, Pujian No. 2 Elementary School, Shanghai.

Figure 7.3 Sample lesson planning outline from Shanghai.

Figure 7.4 Distribution of research projects contents above school level

Figure 7.5 Teaching competition photo posted by a teacher on WeChat, a social networking platform in China.

Figure 7.6 Qibao Experimental Middle School “Rigorous Classroom Teaching Expert” Teaching Contest Evaluation Form.

Figure 7.7 Different people’s impact on teacher professional development

Figure 7.8 Teachers’ professional titles at all levels of schooling

Figure 7.9 Award-winning teachers in public display at Qibao Experimental Middle School, Shanghai.

Figure 7.10 Award-winning teachers in school display at Pujian No. 2 Elementary School, Shanghai.



Table of Contents















































































































































FEW WOULD DISAGREE THAT, among all the factors that affect how much students learn, the quality of their teachers ranks very high. But what, exactly, do policy makers, universities, and school leaders need to do to make sure that the vast majority of teachers in their jurisdiction are literally world class?

Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to look carefully and in great detail at what the countries whose students are performing at the world’s top levels are doing to attract the highest quality high school students to teaching careers, prepare them well for that career, organize schools so teachers can do the best work of which they are capable, and provide incentives for them to get better at the work before they finally retire.

It was not hard for us to find the right person to lead a study that would do just that. Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond is one of the world’s most admired researchers. Teachers and teaching have been lifelong professional preoccupations for her. And, not least, Professor Darling-Hammond is no stranger to international comparative studies. Fortunately for us and for you, she agreed to lead an international comparative study of teacher quality in a selection of top-performing countries. The study, Empowered Educators: How High-Performing Systems Shape Teaching Quality Around the World, took two years to complete and is unprecedented in scope and scale.

The volume you are reading is one of six books, including case studies conducted in Australia, Canada, China, Finland, and Singapore. In addition to the case studies and the cross-study analysis, the researchers have collected a range of videos and artifacts (http://ncee.org/empowered-educators)—ranging from a detailed look at how the daily schedules of teachers in Singapore ensure ample time for collaboration and planning to a description of the way Shanghai teachers publish their classroom research in refereed journals—that we hope will be of great value to policy makers and educators interested in using and adapting the tools that the top-performing jurisdictions use to get the highest levels of teacher quality in the world.

Studies of this sort are often done by leading scholars who assemble hordes of graduate students to do the actual work, producing reams of reports framed by the research plan, which are then analyzed by the principal investigator. That is not what happened in this case. For this report, Professor Darling-Hammond recruited two lead researcher-writers for each case study, both senior, one from the country being studied and one from another country, including top-level designers and implementers of the systems being studied and leading researchers. This combination of insiders and external observers, scholars and practitioner-policy makers, gives this study a depth, range, and authenticity that is highly unusual.

But this was not just an effort to produce first-class case studies. The aim was to understand what the leaders were doing to restructure the profession of teaching for top performance. The idea was to cast light on that by examining what was the same and what was different from country to country to see if there were common threads that could explain uncommon results. As the data-gathering proceeded, Professor Darling-Hammond brought her team together to exchange data, compare insights, and argue about what the data meant. Those conversations, taking place among a remarkable group of senior policy actors, practitioners, and university-based researchers from all over the world, give this work a richness rarely achieved in this sort of study.

The researchers examined all sorts of existing research literature on the systems they were studying, interviewed dozens of people at every level of the target systems, looked at everything from policy at the national level to practice in individual schools, and investigated not only the specific policies and practices directly related to teacher quality, but the larger economic, political, institutional, and cultural contexts in which policies on teacher quality are shaped.

Through it all, what emerges is a picture of a sea change taking place in the paradigm of mass education in the advanced industrial nations. When university graduates of any kind were scarce and most people had jobs requiring only modest academic skills, countries needed teachers who knew little more than the average high school graduate, perhaps less than that at the primary school level. It was not too hard to find capable people, typically women, to do that work, because the job opportunities for women with that level of education were limited.

But none of that is true anymore. Wage levels in the advanced industrial countries are typically higher than elsewhere in the world. Employers who can locate their manufacturing plants and offices anywhere in the world and who do not need highly skilled labor look for workers who have the basic skills they need in low-wage countries, so the work available to workers with only the basic skills in the high-wage countries is drying up. That process is being greatly accelerated by the rapid advance of automation. The jobs that are left in the high-wage countries mostly demand a higher level of more complex skills.

These developments have put enormous pressure on the governments of high-wage countries to find teachers who have more knowledge and a deeper command of complex skills. These are the people who can get into selective universities and go into occupations that have traditionally had higher status and are better compensated than school teaching. What distinguishes the countries with the best-performing education systems is that: 1) they have figured this out and focused hard on how to respond to these new realities; and 2) they have succeeded not just in coming up with promising designs for the systems they need but in implementing those systems well. The result is not only profound changes in the way they source, educate, train, and support a truly professional teaching force, but schools in which the work of teachers is very differently organized, the demands on school leaders is radically changed, teachers become not the recipient of a new set of instructions from the ”center,“ but the people who are actually responsible for designing and carrying out the reforms that are lifting the performance of their students every day. Not least important, these systems offer real careers in teaching that enable teachers, like professionals in other fields, to gain more authority, responsibility, compensation, and status as they get better and better at the work, without leaving teaching.

This is an exciting story. It is the story that you are holding in your hand. The story is different in every country, province, and state. But the themes behind the stories are stunningly similar. If you find this work only half as compelling as I have, you will be glued to these pages.




WORKING IN INTERNATIONAL CONTEXTS as a nonnative requires a lot of support from people who are willing to spend time talking about the basic elements of the system in which they live. Your supporters must have much patience with your naive understanding, and they must be willing to look at their own system with the lens of an outsider trying to understand. I was extremely lucky to find such support through the Institute for Schooling Reform and Development at East China Normal University (ECNU) in Shanghai.

I now count among my colleagues Jiacheng LI, professor of Education Science at ECNU. I am deeply appreciative of his partnership in the research and writing of this case. Dr. LI is a very busy man, yet he took time to meet with me, to set up school visits, to find translators, to read and add text to drafts of the case study that provided valuable insights from an insiders’ perspective. I take full responsibility for the information in this case, but want to acknowledge Dr. LI for his contributions that gave nuance and factual accuracy to many facets of the case.

I also want to acknowledge Professor Lan YE, the founding director of the Institute for Schooling Reform and Development at ECNU. Professor YE’s groundbreaking work on university-school partnerships has created a catalyst for change in schools, and her writings continue to influence how schools imagine teaching and learning interactions. The two hours I spent with her during an interview helped me grasp the history of teaching in China and the cultural importance of education to the nation. These deeply held values are part of what creates a systemic tension as Shanghai and the Institute for Schooling Reform and Development strive to create a “new” basic education model within the traditional space of a merit-based system with reward for hard work.

Also, Professor Gang DING, dean of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Education at ECNU provided data from his own national study on teacher professional learning to support this case.

I am also very grateful to Ms. Xu (Iris) ZHOU, director of the Office of International Affairs, School of Education Science for being so welcoming to me and my family. Through her office at ENCU, I was able to make all of my arrangements to be a visiting scholar, and Iris provided that personal reassurance that we could make everything work out during my visit.

During my month-long stay in Shanghai in fall 2013, I was privileged to be welcomed into four school sites and the two university teacher preparation programs in Shanghai. Presentations by and interviews with the principals and staff at Shanghai Jiangsu Road No.5 Primary School, Qibao Experimental Junior High School, Pujiang No. 2 Elementary School, and Qilun Elementary School provided essential information for understanding how teachers’ work is constructed in China. I sat in on teacher meetings in which lessons were being designed. I attended lessons with several other teachers and parents to watch the instruction and then listen in on the follow-up conversation where the teacher got feedback from peers and parents. I saw lesson plans that were being designed for district level competitions. And I interviewed teachers about their work and professional learning opportunities. In the United States, arranging for visitors to enter classrooms often creates a disruption and requires making special arrangements with a teacher. My hosts in Shanghai certainly went out of their way to arrange meetings and interviews, but my impression of classroom visits and observations was that it was a perfectly normal event to have a group of teachers in the back of the classroom observing the lesson.

Ms. Nianyang WU, deputy director of the Faculty of Education at Shanghai Normal University, hosted a focus group meeting of teacher education candidates and provided an informative overview of the program at Shanghai Normal. Faculty at East China Normal University shared descriptions of the programs at ECNU, and counselors at the new Xiancheng MENG College on the Minhang campus of ECNU met with me to describe the system of support that their teacher candidates have.

Three district administrators made time to talk with me about the Shanghai system of education. Ms. Defang WU, deputy director, Division of Schooling and Lifelong Learning helped me understand the ongoing professional learning opportunities that teachers in Shanghai have. Ms. Yue ZHU, assistant superintendent Minhang District described the hiring process and support for first-year teachers in her district. Mr. Zhiyue GU, senior advisor to the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission and former head of one of the Shanghai Districts, provided insights about how the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission views the PISA results and their current desire for educational reform that makes learning more innovative and creative for students.

Working in a Mandarin-speaking context while being monolingual in English had its own challenges. ECNU provided excellent translation support by recruiting three of their graduate students to travel with me to meetings. Zhongxian CHEN, Yun JI, and Yanting LIU became a constant presence in my ear as they translated meetings proceedings, my interview questions, and located documents. They, themselves, as candidates to become teachers and education officials provided insights into the work and career opportunities in the Chinese education system. When I returned to the University of Minnesota, I had support to translate documents and interview recordings for the final case write-up by Fang (Andie) WANG.

I am very appreciative of the detailed feedback I received from several reviewers on earlier versions of this case. Three reviewers from the Center on International Education Benchmarking International Advisory Board provided helpful insights on how the overall case was or was not capturing elements of the Shanghai and overall China policy system. Thank you to Minxuan ZHANG, professor and director, Research Institute for International and Comparative Education at Shanghai Normal University; Michael Day, professor of Education and director of the School of Education at Roehampton University in the UK, and Kai Ming Cheng, emeritus professor Division of Policy, Administration and Social Sciences Education at Hong Kong University. Professor Cheng was also very helpful during the field study portion of this case development. I had the opportunity to visit him in Hong Kong immediately after my visit to Shanghai to debrief my findings with him and his colleagues. I have made efforts to address all of the reviewers’ feedback. Some will be disappointed that there is no simple answer to the question of “why Shanghai performs so well on PISA,” but their comments pushed me to better address the multiple contributing factors. In addition, Dion Burns, research analyst and Linda Darling-Hammond, faculty director, both at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, provided detailed comments and suggestions that led to more description of the practices in the schools to give the case more life.

I want to thank Linda Darling-Hammond for presenting me with the opportunity to learn and write about Shanghai. It was a meaningful opportunity to me on many levels. My own passion for understanding, supporting, and developing teaching and teachers made this project a fit that educational researchers dream of. The opportunity to work with such a dynamic team of researchers—many of whom I have admired for decades—made this an experience in which we were all deepening our understanding together. Being part of this team enriched my own thinking and understanding in immeasurable ways.

I took on this work during a sabbatical from the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. My college is very supportive of its faculty, and having the opportunity to explore new lines of research is a gift that will continue to support my career for many years. Being on sabbatical also meant that I could take an extended time to visit Shanghai and have the opportunity to take my family with me. My husband and two children had a life-changing experience with me while we lived in Shanghai and later traveled in greater China. We all became citizens of the world during this family journey.

Learning about China through a Westerners’ eyes and ears is a complex task. We take so much for granted about what “school” looks like and how our systems are set up to support schooling practices. Even with a lot of preparatory reading about China and its schools in advance of arriving in Shanghai, I look back on my interviews and school visits and I see how my questions are framed with a western perspective on what I expected to see and learn. Now that I understand more about the Shanghai education system through the support of all of these people, I have a deep impression of their commitment to high-quality education, and their willingness to share their practices is a strong testament to the learning culture I experienced in China.


THIS WORK IS MADE possible through a grant by the Center on International Education Benchmarking® of the National Center on Education and the Economy® and is part of a series of reports on teacher quality systems around the world. For a complete listing of the material produced by this research program, please visit www.ncee.org/cieb.

The Center on International Education Benchmarking®, a program of NCEE, funds and conducts research around the world on the most successful education systems to identify the strategies those countries have used to produce their superior performance. Through its books, reports, website, monthly newsletter, and a weekly update of education news around the world, CIEB provides up-to-date information and analysis on those countries whose students regularly top the PISA league tables. Visit www.ncee.org/cieb to learn more.

The National Center on Education and the Economy was created in 1988 to analyze the implications of changes in the international economy for American education, formulate an agenda for American education based on that analysis and seek wherever possible to accomplish that agenda through policy change and development of the resources educators would need to carry it out. For more information visit www.ncee.org.

Research for this volume was coordinated by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) at Stanford University. SCOPE was founded in 2008 to foster research, policy, and practice to advance high-quality, equitable education systems in the United States and internationally.


Mistilina Sato