America’s schools are abysmal; in the world arena, our students barely break the top 20, ranking down there with Lichtenstein – and private prep schools aren’t significantly better. In fact, America scores only seven points higher than dead center. We blame poverty, we blame spending, we blame teachers, parents, curricula, lack of diversity – but no one has come up with an actual plan that works.
In The Smartest Kids in the World, Time journalist Amanda Ripley follows three American exchange students of different backgrounds to some of the highest-scoring countries in the world – laid-back Finland (#3), the pressure-cooker of South Korea where students are in school more than 14 hours a day (#2), and upcoming Poland (#15), which, despite poor standing as a poverty-stricken, post-communist country, managed to climb from the bottom to the top ranks in only three years because of drastic and ongoing reforms.
Not everything is rosy in all places; there are still pitfalls to each system, but one thing remains common to all good systems: value the education. When anyone in America becomes a teacher because they want to be a sports coach, there’s a problem. All top countries made it extremely difficult to become a teacher – thus, only the top teachers actually make it to the classrooms. Sports are not included in school; they are strictly extra-curricular. Teachers are paid very well for making it that far – and if their students slide, they can be fired far easier than in America – why keep a bad teacher? Seriously – why do we do that? In most of these places, the teacher is not the focus. It is not about holidays, or length of day, or passing endless standardized tests: it’s about imparting learning to the child. Education is about the child’s learning, and nothing else.
Ms. Ripley’s research illuminates what is wrong with our educational system, and lays out a course to work towards fixing it. This book is a fantastic wake-up call to educators of all children, from Pre-K to college. It’s a fast, easy read that will leave you very angry with the status quo. – a must-read for anyone concerned about the state of education in America.
Go. Read it. And start bugging your schools.