As an experienced teacher in Shanghai (at the SMIC Private School) with familiarity with many of the other international schools, here is my breakdown of schools with truly western curriculum (to the best of my objective abilities)
Best Overall (Puxi): Shanghai American School (SAS) - Puxi Campus
There is a reason why this is the most difficult school to get into. They have a large waiting list because this school is the nearest thing you can get to a well-rounded, American curriculum. The management and facilities are top-notch. With a sprawling campus, SAS feels like a unique American retreat isolated from the rest of China - not unlike the gated communities for expats in the middle east. If you want your child to emulate the exact same lifestyle as he/she had in your home country (especially USA) and price is not an issue, then this is your first choice.
- drawbacks -
Price: USD20,000, distance from city center, long waiting lists, "wild" upperclassmen
Best Overal (Pudong): Concordia International School
A great management team with that creates a positive, structured curriculum. Much smaller than SAS, the school has a excellent facilities, and the entire campus (a beautiful, quaint office-building architecture) is hooked up to wireless Internet (all students are required to purchase a laptop for classes). It is a Lutheran based school, so there is more moral structure for the students (student uniforms, strong values educations). Smaller class sizes also help individualize learning. Also based upon an American curriculum, they offer nearly all the standard electives and college counseling as SAS Puxi.
- drawbacks -
Price: USD21,000, distance from city center, a relatively new school with a limited tradition of academic excellence for colleges (not that they aren't building one)
Best Value: SMIC Private School
A even mix of experienced and young, well-educated admin and staff (Yale, Stanford, Northwestern, UPenn, Cornell, Oxford, Harvard), small class sizes and the lowest price among schools using British or American curriculum (around USD6000, including 'management' fees). Has a unique bilingual structure with a completely American and completely Chinese curriculum under one roof (each student chooses one, but not both). Short waiting lists and a more sheltered social life. 2006 Middle/High School principal was Dean of Foreign Language department at Phillips Academy. *Finally, it has an award-winning student newspaper, the only true newspaper among int'l schools in Shanghai (okay, that's my bias: I was the faculty advisor!).
- drawbacks -
Distance from city center, functional but sparce, spartan campus and facilities. limited activities and electives. No academic tradition for colleges (first graduating class will be in 2006). Chinese-style cafeteria foods and small student population often has high schoolers in constant complaint. High faculty turnover rate. Sheltered student social life. Only accredited in China as of now (Chinese govt ceased giving new int'l school licenses in 2002)
Best Location: Yew Chung International School (YCIS) Gubei Campus
Best Chinese Language immersion - SMIC Private School/Shanghai High School-International Division (SHS-ID)/YCIS
Most Beautiful Campus: Shanghai American School (SAS) Pudong (next to the ocean, but very, very far from city center)
Best Academic Tradition: SAS Puxi
Best Athletics and Activities: SAS Puxi
Biggest: SAS Puxi
Smallest: Livingston American School
Worst (Objectively, really): SHS-ID
My experience with SHS students is this: It has too many apathetic local teachers and little to no supervision on the students. Students can go there for 8 years without basic English skills. Non-existent college counseling and planning. This is where excellent students struggle to create a college path by themselves, good students become average, average students go bad, and bad students commit crimes. Really. My understanding is that the management is purely Chinese aparitchik, and all the money from the large International Division used for its excellent Chinese track. Oh, and foreign students are not allowed into the Chinese track. You can get a good immersion in Chinese here, but only because so many 'international' students don't speak English at all. Meanwhile students learn how to sleep in class, ditch school, go nightclubbing, and worse.
One Last Note
On a personal level, I did graduate from what many consider the best international school in Asia - The Taipei American School. Great location in the heart of the city, top-notch academic reputation (5-10 Ivy League/Stanford enrollments a year). To this day they only charge around USD$14,000 per annum. And it is in a much more expensive country, with much less competition from any other int'l schools. So why do most of the Int'l schools in Shanghai charge so much? And all nearly hovering around USD20,000? It's almost like a backroom conspiracy, if I were prone to believe in that stuff. You would think someone would start to drive the market value down.