Recently I finished a great book called ‘The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way’ by Amanda Ripley.
This book focuses on the results of the PISA test (Program for International Student Assessment) the brain child of Andreas Schleicher and first taken by teens in 43 countries in 2000.
This test does not consist of multiple choice answers nor is it like any standard academic tests; and was instead designed to demonstrate the real knowledge and communication skills of each student. Interpreting charts, data and being able to write clear concise answers and opinions in essay form are just part of how the test measures a student’s real life abilities.
It may come as no surprise that the US high school students have never performed well on this test, in 2009 we ranked 26th in Math, 17th in Science, and 12th in Reading (all the while ranking 2nd in the World in spending per pupil).
The author Amanda takes a look at the three countries who have managed to come out on top, with students who score impossibly high on these tests, and yet have incredibly different national approaches to the practical business of educating their children. What do these countries have in common that seem to have nothing in common?
Amanda leaves no factor, such as poverty or parental involvement untouched; these and more are fairly examined with unexpected results. She does not address the idea of home education at all, however her look at parental involvement and which kinds actually contribute to better education is revealing and may surprise many.
She specifically follows three American students who participate in foreign exchange programs in the three top scoring countries, which gives her not only an interesting platform for comparing and contrasting American schools with their international competitors, but also lends very personal and unique perspectives of not only the practical differences in school but also a sense of how family and cultural attitudes toward education shape a student’s experience.
Toward the end of the book she manages to tidy the incredible amount of information, and the personal stories she shares into helpful conclusions, and some thought provoking (if not discouraging) suggestions of the key factor to successful education.
As much as I enjoyed the whole book, my favorite part was toward the end where she talks about how she has learned to walk into a class room, or school and tell whether the factors needed for an excellent education are there ( it isn’t what most parent’s tend to know to look for). I loved her list of questions to ask students, which allow you to know if real learning is happening.
I found these things incredibly motivating and challenging as a parent educator. How does my class room score? What answer would my students give to her revealing questions?
For a book that covers a lot of ground (both geographical and philosophical) it was not difficult or heavy reading. The foreign exchange student’s stories brought their countries methods to life and the author managed to present a lot of information in a way that is not tedious, or boring, but instead felt interesting and relevant, no small feat when writing on a subject that can easily become as inspiring as a fifth grade list of spelling words.
I recommend this book to parent’s who don’t mind taking a look at their approach to education from a fresh, and international perspective. In my opinion, THE factor that she presents as the difference between those who excel and those who don’t is just not naturally occurring in the USA at this time and our kid’s only hope is for parents to artificially create it no matter where their child currently learns.
The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley can be found in The Present Mom’s Amazon Store. For quick and easy purchase go here.