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Surpassing Shanghai

An Agenda for American Education Built on the

World’s Leading Systems    

edited by Marc S. Tucker, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2011, 288 pp., $49.95 hardcover, $29.95 softcover


Except for parts of the foreword, Surpassing Shanghai presents a balanced description of how the countries that lead the world in education results rose to the top.

The book’s contributors, compiled by Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy, address this fundamental question: How would we take advantage of everything that has been learned by the countries with the best educational systems in order to redesign an American system better than any that now exists?

The countries included in these pages are Shanghai (actually a big city representing a country), Finland, Japan, Singapore and, a recent entry to this elite field, Canada. The encapsulated histories of how each country made its educational advances are well written with diagrams of their respective systems supported with test scores. Each chose a unique path to the top.

One key chapter compresses the findings across all these countries into seven factors that account for their education success. Two factors — quality teaching force and coherence in the design of the overall education system are seen as most powerful. The last chapter lays out an action plan for the United States, including a competition among states for a revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act based upon what has worked for other countries. The authors acknowledge the real power to act on education issues lies with state governments.

Except for the introduction of the Common Core State Standards, the researchers could not find similarities between the school systems in these high-achieving countries and the current reform movement here. A strong theme throughout the book, however, is that if these countries can realize such outstanding educational achievements, then the United States can too.

Reviewed by Art Stellar, educational consultant, Hingham, Mass.


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