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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Thomas Friedman, "The Shanghai Secret": Could the Results Have Been Rigged?

Ah yes, the wonders of China! And wonder of wonders, Thomas Friedman has discovered the "secret"!

In the past, Friedman sang paeans to China's ultramodern airports (see: and bullet trains (see: Today, however, in a New York Times op-ed entitled "The Shanghai Secret" (,  Tom Terrific is back to tell us "that Shanghai’s public secondary schools topped the world charts in the 2009 PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) exams that measure the ability of 15-year-olds in 65 countries to apply what they’ve learned in math, science and reading." Marveling at this success, Friedman writes of Shanghai’s Qiangwei Primary School:

"When you sit in on a class here and meet with the principal and teachers, what you find is a relentless focus on all the basics that we know make for high-performing schools but that are difficult to pull off consistently across an entire school system. These are: a deep commitment to teacher training, peer-to-peer learning and constant professional development, a deep involvement of parents in their children’s learning, an insistence by the school’s leadership on the highest standards and a culture that prizes education and respects teachers.

Shanghai’s secret is simply its ability to execute more of these fundamentals in more of its schools more of the time. Take teacher development. Shen Jun, Qiangwei’s principal, who has overseen its transformation in a decade from a low-performing to a high-performing school — even though 40 percent of her students are children of poorly educated migrant workers — says her teachers spend about 70 percent of each week teaching and 30 percent developing teaching skills and lesson planning. That is far higher than in a typical American school.

Teng Jiao, 26, an English teacher here, said school begins at 8:35 a.m. and runs to 4:30 p.m., during which he typically teaches three 35-minute lessons. I sat in on one third-grade English class. The English lesson was meticulously planned, with no time wasted. The rest of his day, he said, is spent on lesson planning, training online or with his team, having other teachers watch his class and tell him how to improve and observing the classrooms of master teachers."

Congratulations to Tom on discovering this "secret"! Imagine if American teachers were only asked to teach three 35-minute lessons a day!

But forgive me for asking, why does Tom describe a discussion in English with Teng Jiao and not with his privileged third-grade students?

And if Shanghai’s public secondary schools are indeed the best, why didn't he visit with the 15-year-olds?

Finally, how do we know that test scores weren't rigged? This happens constantly in the US, but of course in China, such a thing could never happen . . . .

Thanks anyway, Tom, for yet another enlightening opinion piece.

[Today, see also:]


  1. ''The rest of his day, he said, is spent .... having other teachers watch his class''
    I hate being pedantic, but shouldn't other teachers watch his class ... during these 35-minute lessons?

  2. If junior teachers are spending a lot of time watching other teachers on a regular basis and only 105 minutes a day teaching classes, how many teachers are there?

  3. The test scores are supervised by international proctors, so no, it's not rigged.

    1. The "international proctors" are fluent in Chinese and know the identities of the students taking the exam?

      And the "international proctors" make certain that all of the children from the class are taking the test and that only children from the class are taking the test?

      It's possible . . .

    2. Of course, totalitarian regimes never seek to skew results and showboat their accomplishments.