Takeaways from the smartest kids in the world

Smartest Kids in the World Book

I recently finished reading Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley. Takeaways:

0. Finland, Poland, and Korea don’t believe in flooding schools with funds as a way to improve them. Nor do they believe that lowering class sizes or increasing teacher salaries are solutions. These are all essentially stated facts in U.S. schools as a means to improve student performance.

1. We think we have high stakes testing. Oh, please. In Korea a student’s future is entirely dependent upon their performance on one exam that they take once. They are practically guaranteed a high paying career and a superb education if they perform well on it. And if they don’t? Well, their future isn’t that bright. That’s high-stakes.

2. How surreal Korea’s hagwons are. The ministry of education completes sweeps to remove students that are being taught beyond 10pm. Korea cannot seem to keep their students from wanting to learn. I had to reread that chapter. Not surprising, as this is a direct consequence of (1).

3. How lackadaisical is teacher preparation in the U.S.? Almost anyone can become a teacher – with comparatively little effort. Countries like Finland select the top 5% of high schoolers to enroll in teacher education programs and their programs are tough. This inherently maintains a culture of high expectations for their students. If the U.S. had a similar system when I graduated high school, I’m not sure I would have been able to become a teacher.

4. Extracurricular activities are almost shunned upon in the highest achieving countries. Academics are absolute priority. I think about how many of my students would be lost without the varsity basketball team. Does this go back to the educational norms that have been established since grade school?

5. Instead of attending PTA meetings, organizing bake sales, or dropping everything to attend parent-teacher night, parents should put more effort into spending high-quality time with their children. Ask about their school day and what they learned. Discuss social issues and current events. Read to them when they’re young and encourage them to think. Studies show that these things have lasting impacts on our kids and how much success achieve.

6. This book is an absolute must-read for any teacher.


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