The World's Smartest People

American students may not perform that well on math and verbal tests, but the U.S. is still a magnet for brainpower.

Where's the Best Education, the Smartest Kids?

U.S. parents and educators can learn from some surprising countries.

smart tiger
Learning from the mistakes and successes of others has always seemed to me a smart way to avoid wasting time and resources. Sometimes you find those "others" in surprising places.

Take educational results: while U.S. test scores are flat, exciting things are happening in Finland, South Korea, and Poland. Who would've thought?

Amanda Ripley accompanied three American high schoolers who studied abroad. Combining her research with the experiences of her young informants, she wrote The Smartest Kids in the World and how they got that way.

Ripley, journalist for Time and Atlantic, and author of The Unthinkable, was basically asking, how are these other countries managing to teach nearly all their children higher-order thinking? What can we learn from their methods, and which of their techniques might work here? Which would we eschew and why?

Ripley makes some compelling arguments in this highly readable book. You'd do well to read it all to get the full flavor of what life is like for a high school student in Finland, in South Korea, and in Poland.

One of the book's practical appendices is entitled "How to Spot a World-Class Education." In one section, Ripley suggests talking to a principal as you might an employer (and I think maybe more of us don't do that because of the memories we have of authoritarian principals from our own youth).

4 Questions to Ask a Principal:

1. How do you choose your teachers?

Countries that are educational superpowers accept, for their teacher colleges, only those in the top third of their graduating high school classes. That's a start.

2. How do you make your teachers better?

The more specifics, the better. Professional development should be customized to the strengths and weaknesses of the individual teacher, rather than consisting of lectures to hundreds in an auditorium.

3. How do you measure your success?

Specifics, again, are best, and citing only test-score measures isn't enough.

4. How do you make sure the work is rigorous enough and how do you keep raising the bar to find out what kids can do?

As an example, Ripley discusses the rigor of a New York City charter school in which science is taught daily in kindergarten, students learn to play chess, parents are asked to read to their kids six nights a week, and parents have the cell phone numbers of their kids' teachers and principal.

 Copyright (c) 2013 by Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.

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