After visiting Shanghai’s Qiangwei Primary School, with 754 students — grades one through five — and 59 teachers, I think I found The Secret:
There is no secret.
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.
Actually, providing more time out of class is as close to The Secret as you're going to get, although it is a meta-solution more than a solution. It is the fix that allows all the other fixes to possibly work. It directly solves a few otherwise intractable issues, like burnout. Nobody (even the unions, really) wants to say "Hire a lot more teachers and make them work less," but we have invented a few euphemisms like "career ladder."
And it means spending a lot of money, so Tom Friedman lucidly explains what needs to be done, shrugs, and walks away.