Migrant children in Shanghai: a research note on the PISA-Shanghai controversy

Duoduo Xu*, Jaap Dronkers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The strong performance of Shanghai students in the last two rounds of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) has caused widespread controversy about the credibility and representativeness of the data. In this paper, we examine the openness and equity of Shanghai's education system by investigating migrant students' family socioeconomic status (SES) composition and its impact on educational outcomes, based on the PISA-Shanghai data in 2009 and 2012, in comparison to Hong Kong and Macao, two other Chinese urban societies with strict border control of Mainland Chinese migrants but without additional hukou regulations. The results show that, likely in relation to hukou barriers in school admission, migrant students sampled in PISA-Shanghai 2009 were substantially positively selected in terms of family background, leading to an upwardly biased test performance. Though increasing numbers of low-SES migrant children were enrolled in local schools by 2012 due to a series of educational reforms aiming to offer equal access to school opportunities for non-local hukou holders, this progress was only limited to junior high school.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-295
Number of pages25
JournalChinese Sociological Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016



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