Interesting cities: five approaches to urban school reform

Alex Elwick

Tony McAleavy

Our latest report is a pioneering comparison of the approaches used to improve school standards in five diverse cities around the world: London, New York, Dubai, Rio de Janeiro and Ho Chi Minh City.

In the first study of its kind, Interesting cities found the key ways to improving education standards are:

  • appointing or electing a key figure to drive through a change agenda;
  • using ‘big data’ to identify and intervene where students are in danger of falling behind;
  • forging strong coalitions between parents, teachers and professional bodies;
  • making teaching a career of choice: adopting innovative ways of attracting talented people into teaching;
  • increasing both accountability and support for teachers with improved training;
  • applying pressure for change in underperforming schools;
  • ensuring school-to-school collaboration, pairing strong schools with weaker schools, helping the latter improve.

All five cities represent hugely different societies in terms of economic development, politics and culture. We chose these cities because each place seemed to have a promising story to tell about policy leading to improved quality outcomes for schools. The global education debate has rightly moved to a focus on quality and this is where the hard work really starts. Improving learning outcomes is difficult and it is easy to be pessimistic and defeatist. However, each of these stories provide grounds for optimism that the right choice of reform policy can make a real difference.