While American educators struggle to address the achievement gap between higher- and lower-income students, the Chinese have turned their attention to their own chronic disparity – that between rural and urban schools.
For nearly a decade, education officials in Shanghai have found success with a mentoring program that pairs high-performing urban schools with poorly funded, lower-performing schools on the agricultural and residential outskirts of this city of 24 million.
The dichotomy is stark – especially because Shanghai astounded the education world in 2009 with a first-place finish in the Program for International Student Assessment test. Though Shanghai is China's largest and wealthiest city, a number of its schools still suffer from what one education official has called "rural culture." Staff are complacent and resistant to change, while teaching methods are outdated and little attention is paid to training. Schools closer to the city center benefit from more funding and a deeper teacher talent pool, with more students pursuing higher education.