Where Do the Smartest Kids in the World Go to School?

Imagine if teachers in the United States were as revered as doctors or lawyers, were paid salaries that rivaled corporate executives, and had dedicated students more interested in academics than making varsity sports teams. It may sound far-fetched, but  journalist Amanda Ripley discovered these scenarios by following three exchange students who attended school in other countries. She shares their stories in her new book, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way.

Ripley follows Kim, 15, who raises $10,000 so she can move from Oklahoma to Finland; Eric, 18, who exchanges a high-achieving Minnesota suburb for a booming city in South Korea; and Tom, 17, who leaves a historic Pennsylvania village for Poland.

Their experiences and Ripley’s exhaustive research into the educational systems of these countries reveals a startling transformation in student achievement. NEA Today asked Ripley what educators in America can learn from these countries.

What was it about this topic that motivated you to write a book about it?

I kept hearing about these countries with incredibly high achieving students and I kind of didn’t believe it. I wanted to find out, and really see what it’s like to be a student in these countries. It’s incredibly exciting to see how they’ve transformed. Finland had a 10 percent graduation rate in the 1950s. Now the graduation rate is in the 90s. I wanted to report on how other countries can transform complicated education systems by raising the bar on what students can do.

If America were to emulate the rigorous teacher-prep programs of Finland, and attract the best and the brightest to the profession as they have done, what would be the necessary steps?

Finland closed down its education colleges in the late 1960s and reopened them in the top, most selective universities in the country. The impact was significant in a variety of ways — it sent a signal to politicians, taxpayers and especially to Finland’s kids about how serious their country was about education and how hard and important the teaching profession was. Getting into a teacher education program in Finland is like getting into MIT in America. Students know their teachers have to be incredibly well educated in order to get that job, and they understand how hard it is to get into a teacher education school. They respect that process and what their educators can offer them. One thing we underestimate in the United States is the importance of student buy-in – how much do they believe in the system? Students recognize the apparent hypocrisy in our country. We say education is important and that teaching is hard, and then we don’t act like it. What we can learn from Finland is that if you make the profession more prestigious, more people will want to be a part of it. In Finland, being a teacher is like being a surgeon or fighter pilot or CEO. The entire country recognizes that it is serious, challenging and dynamic work requiring constant collaboration.

The South Korean university entrance exam given to all high school seniors is considered the most critical exam of a citizen’s life and students will study 12 to 16 hours a day throughout high school to make sure they’re  ready. The preparation and pressure surrounding these exams is excessive, but is there anything educators here can learn about motivating students from South Korea?

There are fascinating lessons from Korea even though we don’t want to emulate the whole system. While sometimes we underestimate what students can do, South Korea has a history of overestimating.  There’s an assumption that all kids can do better in school if they work harder and get more help. If you work harder, you’ll do better, no matter what. That assumption is pervasive in a lot of Asia and it’s a mindset we can learn from. Too many of us think that some students have innate talents for math and some don’t. But the growth mindset is incredibly healthy and powerful and other countries have adopted it while we have not.

Finland also has a final high school exam that is hard core – it stretches out over three weeks, lasts 50 hours, and is extremely rigorous. Everyone understands that this end of school exam directly impacts what college or training they’ll attend, and it’s easy to connect the dots between the test and how interesting their lives will be. Finland has a focus on quality and rigor of tests rather than quantity – they give fewer high-stakes tests, but they’re harder. The Finnish section, for example, takes two days.  Students read several texts and write essays over 6 hours. They answer questions like why is it so difficult to achieve peace in the Middle East? If we created smarter tests, we could have fewer of them, and it would likely create more parent and teacher buy-in.

It’s probably unrealistic to keep the sports culture out of schools in the U.S., but are there lessons we can learn from Poland about celebrating academics and academic achievement, as much as we do high school football wins?

None of these countries takes sports as seriously as the U.S. In fact, they don’t celebrate athletics in school at all. The student who went to Poland was from Pennsylvania, a big high school football state. At his hometown high school, there were three different reporters who covered every football game, and the local paper had an entire section devoted to high school sports. At his school in Poland, there wasn’t even a sports field. When students end up the newspaper in South Korea, it’s because of an academic triumph. There’s a real difference in the message kids receive about what’s powerful and important. Kids enjoy sports in all of these countries, but they play on their own, particularly in high school. Sports get less time consuming as students get older because the mindset is that they should invest more time in school as a teenager.

I wouldn’t suggest that we get rid of sports in our schools, because they’re really fun and build community and school spirit. But is there a way to find a balance and carry more of that spirit and good will into academic endeavors?

What are the ways parents are involved in these top countries that are different and more effective?

One of the biggest surprises for me was that you didn’t see parents at the high schools in these countries pretty much ever. Parents weren’t volunteering or holding fundraisers or attending Parent/Teacher conferences. I asked Kim’s Finnish host mother what the school asks her to do to get involved, and she was totally confused by the question. They don’t ask her to do anything, she said, though she sort of liked the idea of volunteering. But in Finland it’s understood that parents are involved at home. This was true of South Korea as well. There’s the sense that part of your job as a parent to be a coach for your child in learning from a very young age. It can be very powerful. Surveys of parents have has shown that Asian American parents talk to very young kids about numbers, and teaching them can be fun and loving, not at all “Tiger Mom,” whereas some Caucasian American parents buy placemats with numbers on them and feel their job is done.

There are many parents who are involved at home, and many educators here who would agree that a parent who partners with them at home to help their child think more critically is more valuable than one who volunteers in the classroom. Parents can ask their educators how best to get involved and trade ideas with each other. When my child was in kindergarten, for example, the teacher sat a group of us down and gave us tips to help make our children become critical thinkers. One way was to always ask questions while reading stories, like, “Can you predict what happens next?”

Are standardized tests that measure teacher or school performance a part of the educational systems in any of the countries? How is teacher performance measured?

Most of the top performing countries do not routinely use standardized tests to measure teacher performance, and the reasons vary dramatically. In Finland test data isn’t used because of the high level of trust in their teachers. Still, there are some checks and balances. The Finnish government administers tests of a sample of students around the country every couple of years to make sure achievement is up, and they share that data with principals, but it’s not used to evaluate teachers. In South Korea, they actually expressed a strong desire to use tests to evaluate teachers but they didn’t know how to do so fairly. There is so much education going on, with so many teachers teaching kids the same subject in school as well as in the after school “hagwons,” nobody could could identify who led students to the high test score.

Do you think the new Common Core standards will impact the rigor and therefore the outcomes for American students?

All of these countries also came to an agreement on higher, fewer, and clearer standards. In that sense the Common Core is an obvious pre-requisite to a more rigorous system. It also opens the door to collaboration and is a huge opportunity with the creative things teachers can do with the standards. But they need to have the time and space to really marinate in the new standards. Teachers don’t have a lot of time to collaborate and plan in the U.S., whereas teachers in other countries do have that time built into their days.

What do you think are the main issues hindering the success of our education system?

I think our levels of child poverty make education much harder in the US. On average, our kids are better off than kids in other developed countries, but we tend to cluster low-income kids together in one school. Our schools aren’t that diverse, and we’re one of the few countries where more resources aren’t distributed to the neediest schools.

There’s also a lack of rigor throughout the system – in what kids are learning and what’s demanded of them, in how teachers are selected and trained, even in how parents are involved. There’s a persistent and systemic lack of rigor in math and science.

We could overcome a lot if we combined rigor with meaningful teacher training and shifted resources to where they’re needed most.

  • Kathy

    If I hear the word ‘RIGOR’ again, I’m going to S C R E A M!

    Rigor is a weasle word with little ‘actual’ meaning in regard to facts.
    Rigor is an adjective.
    Describing a test or curriculum as ‘rigorous’ means NOTHING to me.
    Show me the beef!

    Common Core is DANGEROUS to the educational health and future of our children!

    POVERTY is NOT ‘the’ or even ‘a’ reason many children are failing to thrive in the classroom. Dr. Ben Carson’s childhood is a perfect example of how a home should be structured… REGARDLESS of income level.

    Reading this article confirms to me AGAIN, that those who are making educational decisions about or public schools have their noses in books WAY TOO MUCH…. Time to tear ‘The Box’ down, get outside and get to know the people you serve.
    ELIMINATE Head Start and Public Pre-School… Kids NEED a good relationship with their parents FIRST! Taking them out of the home damages MORE than it helps… You want to help? GO to their homes and see for yourself, ask what they need help with, and help them PROBLEM Solve….. apparently a dying art or one reserved for the ‘elite-educated’ who speak in acronyms.

    Discipline, Moral Value, Conflict Resolution, REAL Science, History, and Math, RIGOROUS physical exercise/recess, COMMON SENSE, and Team Spirit are totally missing from public schools….. There are some things for YOU to work on within the schools; within YOUR power.

    STOP Social Engineering!

    I would not have my child in public school today for love or money!

  • Jennifer

    I respectfully disagree with just about everything you said.
    1. Rigor is a huge problem across the United States. Many teachers are only providing students with basic knowledge about something, and not giving them any opportunities to dive deeper into how something works, or its background..the how and the why.
    2. I do agree with the ‘show me the beef’. If we as teachers are being told that something isnt challenging enough. show us what is.
    2. Common Core has some great aspects of continuity that will benefit students across the country.
    3. After working in poverty stricken areas, I can say with certainty, that poverty is a huge reason who students are not succeeding at school. Parents are working multiple jobs, struggling to get food on the table, and parenting issues take backseat to life.

    One thing the article didnt address is culture. In the United States, we are a blend of many different backgrounds, while the three countries are very homogeneous. Not all cultures value education in the same way, and that is not something that can be changed.
    IM curious about the student that went to South Korea. Did that child speak Korean? Were they required to learn it? How did that happen? Where I teach, almost have of our population is labeled as ‘English Learners’, while I dont believe this is the case in these three countries.
    How do these other countries deal with students coming into the school system not knowing the language?
    I am glad to hear that they arent using student test scores to judge teacher performance.

  • Renate Pennington

    Having visited schools in Germany, Switzerland and Japan, I agree with many of the points in this article: teachers in the United States are not respected and sports are rewarded more than academic achievements. Most educators struggle with student achievement around the world. One of the main factors, which is still ignored is poverty. In Finland every baby leaving the hospital – leaves with five books. What a concept. A common core starting at birth. Many poor children in America have no books at home. Helping parents learn to parent, beginning at birth could help overall academic achievement.

  • Karen

    I would be interested in knowing if these other countries integrate all students, even those with mental retardation and severe learning problems into the classrooms and if these students are included in all lessons and all testing.

  • I think that we need much more parental involvement. In our country education is left to a teacher. Parents need to be held more accountable for their child’s absenteeism and actions. Once that is addressed then our children should become better learners. They will learn that everyone needs to do their job as learners and parents and educators.

  • We’re The only country in the world that educates ALL students, no matter their disability. We test constantly, and “say all kids should take the same test”. Under NCLB. As a retired teacher of 34 yrs, there is much to say here, but what is the point. Parents, and their way of life should teach their kids, morals, ethics, empathy and many other things, not the teachers. The last two generations of parents have done a piss poor job.

  • L Maier

    Wait, if “poverty is not the reason many children are failing to thrive in the classroom,” why aren’t all those kids in high-achieving private schools? Oh yeah. Poverty.

    “ELIMINATE Head Start and Public Pre-School… Kids NEED a good relationship with their parents FIRST!” I suppose the kids who have poverty-stricken parents who neglect them and their education in favor of being in a bar at 10:00 on a weekday morning would be better. How about those parents who are attempting to locate enough money to put food on the table tonight for dinner rather than playing with their child? I’m sure they, in their absence, would make for a great bonding and educational experience that is much better than having them in a Head Start program.

    Are you serious? You have obviously never been poor. And that is the reason why policy-makers have their heads screwed on wrong. They have no idea what the lives of their constituents are like and focus on what the have’s should be able to do.

    Ben Carson is one of my heroes, but his mother was a unique woman with attributes many poor people in our country simply do not possess. He is definitely to be admired and is an awesome role model. However, he’s not exactly the norm.

    Read Ruby K. Payne’s book, Understanding Poverty.

  • Bruce Martin

    Phyllis said: “The last two generations of parents have done a piss poor job.”

    Maybe that’s because, since about 1980, economic growth in the US has gone to the upper 1-10%. The increase in American productivity tracked median take-home pay before then, but stopped after then. So families had to hold two jobs to maintain the same income level.

    Of course parents will do a much poorer job at parenting when they have such a lot less time available to stay home with their kids.

    So the real cause of modern challenges to education is quite a bit due to the earnings of the 99% being collected by the 1% instead. Make a decent income for a family achievable with one adult working in one job, and we will see educational achievements boom a decade later. It would not be serious for anyone to ignore this as a factor.

  • Judy

    Dear Kathy,
    It is better to keep your mouth shut and have people assume you are ignorant than to open it and remove all doubt.

  • I agree with most of the comments made in the previous 5 mails, but not one bit with “Kathy” who abhors public education. As a retired public high school teacher and mother of three very successful (adult) children who went through K-12 in public schools (in Alabama even!), I would also like to offer an answer to “Karen” about whether or not those high-achieving schools integrate everybody. My personal experience with Germany and Switzerland spells out a clear ‘No’ to this question. To this day, both countries have a tier education system in which students are placed into different levels of secondary education in separate schools at fifth grade. The lowest level “graduates” children between the ages of 14-16 years of age after which point they are pretty much on their own to find employment, preferably an apprenticeship. Unemployment among under-age youth is sky high because their skills are often comparable to American drop-outs with the same problem. Societies are more homogenous in all the countries mentioned by readers. Yet, with global movement of peoples more and more of those countries are experiencing similar difficulties in their schools as are known in the US: language barriers, misunderstood cultures etc., etc. It is therefore somewhat unfair to compare the highest levels of education in those foreign countries with the average classroom in an average or below-average setting in a – let’s say – inner city, low income, unemployed environment in this country. Meanwhile, the point in case in Finland is well-taken. I have read a bit about their teachers training which was well-analysed back when Germany received its first results ever of standardized European testing (PISA) years ago in which Germany fared incredibly poorly on all levels! Finland was the great winner and all eyes and research were concentrated on Finland from then on. The Finnish model is most remarkable, especially given the remoteness and vastness of its Arctic regions. Teachers train primarily in Helsinki, but their jobs may end up in Lapland with native children still herding reindeer with their families who’ve never seen the City or even a town. A teacher might have to move his/her family to an outpost in the wilderness. But, upon his/her arrival he/she is honored as if a statesman. The respect for teachers is phenomenal, and the teachers’ attitude cheerful and enthusiastic, for all human qualities are being tested in advance in prolonged and intensive interviews, even before a person is admitted into training for the profession. Respect is absolute key. And, yes, American students DO get the drift that their teachers are not at all valued in this society!

  • Al

    I just don’t know how my sister and I ever succeeded. Our parents were farmers. They worked long hours, especially dad. Mom was home most of the time but worked a lot around the farm. We were required to GO TO SCHOOL each day, no excuses. We played sports, had chores on the farm and were required to do well in class. BOTH of us graduated college and became career teachers even though our parents education ended after high school. Maybe it WAS our parents who had high expectations and didn’t tolerate excuses. If more parents demanded of their kids, let schools truly educate, and kept out of interfering where they didn’t belong, things would improve exponentially. Unfortunately, we cater to those who do the least and make excuses for why their kids don’t succeed. Put some teeth into rules requiring PERSONAL standards and you will see change!

  • Chuck Conlin

    The person who said she would scream if she heard rigor again needs more rigor. Rigor is a noun, not an adjective.

  • Mrs. D

    The only component which seems never addressed in any discussion about student achievement is the student. Teachers can not motivate a person who refuses to attend school or attend to the lesson. Learning is intrinsic is correlated to motivation-another intrinsic characteristic of successful students and people. Students today don’t care to know information or it’s analysis.

  • A.Latimer

    I live in Los Angeles county in a small, not-so-thriving town. When a school distict is asked to educate hundreds or thousands of poor, illiterate illegal immigrants what do you expect to happen to the quality of education? Status quo is remedial, catch up work. Teacher unions fight for sub-par teachers to keep their jobs…even bad teachers keep their jobs. Schools in the city of L.A. deal with gang members and a plethora of social ills, and those are the parents and the kids. I know teachers in high schools who have been hit , spit on, cursed, threatened and had their classrooms vandalized. I do not think if the teachers had gone to an Ivy League college, those students would have any more respect for education.

  • Mrs. D

    Common core assumes all students are willing to learn.

  • Gary

    This author has no idea as to why our students do not do well. I am a teacher and we need to get the teachers’ input. I read in the 3rd or the 4th paragraph in which she wants more training for our teachers. This is the band aid approach.
    We often compare ourselves to Finland, India, China Korea Japan etc. But the main reason why those countries do well is tha they teach fewer standards and repeat and review what students learn frequently.

    1)In the US, we teach too many standards and we do not have time to review and solidify what they learn.
    2) They talk about rigor but forget that students reach the high school without knowing their times table, or cannot multiply an divide or have 6th grade reading level. This is because we have social promotions and students are rarely held back to repeat a class.
    3) Teachers do not have any power over students. If students do not do their home work or if they do not study for a test then teachers cannot do anything. However, they are still made responsible for that student’s learning. In other countries their are severe consequences both in school and at home.
    4) In other countries, the parents and the students are made accountable for the student’s learning. In the US teachers are responsible for students’ learning. And this is a kind of oxymoron. No pressure is put on the parent or the students. Now, anyone with intelligence can understand that a bunch of teenagers would have no incentive to work hard if they are promoted to next higher grade inspite of failures,
    6) In other countries the trust and respect for teachers is high. Students follow teacher’s direction and are afraid of authority and they are willing to be coached.
    7) A nation’s culture has a tremendous impact on students’ achievements.
    8) it takes a whole village to educate children

  • Mrs. D

    The more students who earn a college degree, the less value those degrees will have.

  • Mrs. D

    When I made poor decisions, my parents did not insinuate that anyone was not properly supervising me, but rather, my parents placed the responsibility for my choices squarely upon my shoulders. My academic and social growth and achievement in life was always my responsibility. Today, students aren’t even expected to display good manners much less intellect or problem solving.

  • Dr. Phil Dauber

    Ms. Ripley has written a brilliant and insightful book but her position as an outsider to the K12 education field makes it all but impossible for her to recognize which differences between education in foreign countries and education in the US are most important. She mentions the lack of planning and collaboration time in our schools as compared to foreign schools as one of many factors without realizing how crucial that is. In many countries teachers spend roughly half their time teaching; in the US it is at least 80%. In no other developed country do teachers spend as much time face to face with classes and grading papers at home in the evening, and as little working with other teachers to develop lessons and dealing individually with students out of class. This unfortunately makes K12 teaching in US public schools a fundamentally unattractive profession as compared to the many alternatives. Here teaching is a time pressured scurry job like being a waitress or a short order cook. Moving schools of education to top universities would not change this situation one bit.

    Despite the limitations of K12 education for the masses in this country, the US is still an economic powerhouse with more than enough employed well educated people to keep huge incomes flowing to the 1% elite decision makers. Until that changes it is futile to expect fundamental improvement in either the condition of teachers or the academic achievement of the great mass of students from the lower middle class and the inner city poor.

  • Mrs. D

    A statistical analyst would say there is no warrant for comparison between school systems in nations which are so dissimilar in important characteristics: language, population, funding, health care, and crime rates. Furthermore, standardized tests do not serve as longitudinal indicators but are often used for such purposes.


  • Marrion DeLange

    I am a just recently retired teacher of 40 years. I have taught all levels from Kindergarten to 8th grade. When I began teaching if a student had a problem in school – parents would ask what can I and my child do to improve his/her performance? Now it is what are you the teacher doing wrong? Teaching seems to be a revolving door of education. So called new theories come along every ten or so years, but if you really pay attention – these theories are the same as previous theories. Good luck teachers of the future. May the “force” be with you.

  • Participation in sports does a lot more for our students and for the country than build community and school spirit. I have been coaching for years and have been an athlete my whole life and I am certain that participating in sports increases drive, work ethic, health, ability to cope with stress, how to manage competitiveness, leadership, and the list could go on. I believe that one of the reasons this nation is great is because of our athletic programs which fosters maturity and growth and gives teenagers a genuine way to learn how to be a leader, hard worker, and know they are an integral part of a whole.

    We can’t sell this valuable pillar of our education system short.

  • Maria

    After spending years in S. Korea and having a niece and nephew visit me here, I am certain that students there are completely overworked. I wouldn’t follow any of that model. Kids are sent “off” to school, then to tutoring, then to other lessons…for what? It is more a way for the parents to get rid of the kids than anything else!

  • beth14

    I definitely agree with the single most common thread in the comments; it really falls back to culture and parenting. I know on back to school night EVERY year my Honors level classes will be packed with parents; usually both parents. My lower level classes I might see 1 or 2 parents in 3 sections. The second apples versus oranges question that was also mentioned numerous times is our universal enrollment as compared to selective and earned enrollment in other countries. It makes it really hard to compare the effectiveness of different systems. I know I seem to be a much better teacher when I have better kids, hmmmmm?

  • Denise

    I teach in a school with 89% free and reduced lunches. I am no longer shocked when I hear a story of hardship, such as the first grader who doesn’t know how to use a fork at lunch because all he eats at home is cookies. Or there is another boy who is always tired because his mom makes him clean their house and feed, dress, and be entirely responsible for his three younger siblings. Our school still managed to make AYP this year, but it is a miracle. Our teachers are beyond devoted. However, I am certain that our children could achieve much better with some more family support.

    This may sound radical, but would it hurt to require child development classes before high school graduation? How about structuring times throughout their years in school, where older kids are teaching and mentoring younger kids? What if we actually explained teaching techniques, what a difference learning can make, and made a big deal about teaching? Being a leader could also build self esteem, which is lacking in so many lower income kids. None of these things would hurt the higher income kids either.

  • Karen

    These comments are similar, but from “another” Karen. I have many questions/concerns. Do these so-called high achieving countries teach and respect the students with disabilities and their families? Are the students with disabilities mainstreamed? Are the students with severe physical and cognitive disabilities in the school they would be in if they were not disabled? Are they bused about the countryside or to another town? Are they in segregated schools? Are those segregated schools far from town? Are students with disabilities given afterschool opportunities and classes from the school? Does their state high school league sanction adapted sports as they do only in Minnesota? Are students in school until age twenty-one? Are they given work experience opportunities? Do they have IEPs? How is the care of the students disabled and poor? I have many more questions….and so should every citizen of those countries. Hubert H. Humphrey always said that the measure of a country or society is how they take care of those in the dawn of life: the children, those in the twilight of life: the elderly, and those in the shadows of life: the sick, the needy, the HANDICAPPED.

  • Teaching is a craft, you develop it over time, you change and improve with the times, and for the population you teach. You must achieve, inspire and motivate. I teach in a charter school, the smallest poorest charter school in our state, we have a population of 99% free lunch, 78% homeless, and children of all the races in the world. We are family, we care, and never give up. We provide a rigorous curriculum, relevant and purposeful work, authentic learning experiences, and we teach all subjects, to allow each and every student an experience that ignites a spark for learning. We keep trying and never give up. All this is done with love, genuine love, we don’t complain, we offer solutions. Yes, we do have state mandated testing, we do teach with standards based lessons, we do have formal teacher evaluations, and yes, we have many students with special needs,yet despite every obstacle in our way, we achieve, last year we were number 1 charter school in the state, and number 2 on our island for state standard testing scores…. and yet we have no resources or money for facilities, most of the teacher accept the lowest pay possible.Every school can do it….its about the children. If their parents have failed them….who else can they count on. Instill values in your classroom, expectations for hard work and rigorous curriculum, offer them authentic and purposeful learning experience that are integrated through all the subject areas, and by all means, develop a love of reading, writing, math, and learning in general, the students will want to be there, want to work hard, and make improvements, and your job has been well done. All of the responses blame this that and the other. The problem in America, is a total lack of respect. That is the main reason our schools are failing. We have lost respect. Its gone. Think about it.

  • pat

    This should be the state’s issue, Last time I looked Germany where I am living is only the size of Washington and Oregon. Finland has how many people in the country? How many cultures are in South Korea?
    Poverty is a really big problem in the US. One thing most other developed countries have over us is that a child born in all of them should be able to get the health care they need and food. Why can’t that happen in the US?
    The schools in Germany and Switzerland do not throw the lower students out at 14-16 The go into apprenticeships at 16-18. They already have better skills in Math, German and in most cases even English than most of our High School Graduates. Nothing wrong with a well educated and skilled labor force.
    When I see math-a-phobic Elementary teachers and Middle school teachers teaching Biology, Biology, Biology for Science, I want to scream. We need state standards and National standards but the real problem is the system where the principals are not able to monitor what is being taught in the class, they have to make sure all the E-mail from the District is answered, tests get taken and parents and other stake holders get heard, it seems the teachers and education take a back seat.
    State by state needs to evaluate what needs to be done and get going. A national debate is putting the cart way in front of the horse unless you are the size of South Korea, Germany, Norway, Japan etc.

  • I would change the title of the article to “Where are the Best Educated Children in the World?”

  • It’s laughable that the auther even did not dare to face the real competitor-the communist China. American kids won’t servive in China’s school.

    Talking about teaching all children, even including the dissabled. One has to know that education is “Investment”, not “rights”. The only reason the USA has being able to offer education to dissabled students, is because the USA has been using dishonest means to cumulating its wealth, for example, printing worthless paper money to “buy” goods from the world.

    One day, Americans won’t be able to do so; that’s the day you will be push back to your place. Without that much money, you will drop many programs and the dissabled will be the first one to go.

  • janet

    Head Start helps some families climb their way out of poverty. Although I feel the federal government does too much sometimes and creates an enabling mentality these children need a free safe place to stay while mom or dad or both get their lives together so their children can have a better chance.

  • nancydrew

    Book TV interviewed the author who followed children from the USA who went to the Top listed countries. She followed them AND children from those countries for a great deal of time and did considerable comparison…She arrived at some interesting conclusion which as the panel mentioned, most US teachers will disagree with. The most important being:

    1. EVERY country had completely DIFFERENT teaching styles/methods. So there was NO comparison to be had EXCEPT the standards in every country were higher than the standards / expectation in the USA.

    2. Teaching schools were exclusive and kept for the MOST talented people,YES, similar to medical school, where the best and brightest competed for entrance positions. This is completely the OPPOSITE in the US where many,if not most universities offer an “educational” degree, allowing anyone who can enter “any” college to obtain a teaching degree.

    The leading paragraph of this article STATES that teachers should be respected like doctors and paid like corporate executives…but she failed to mention this should occur ONLY when those same teachers are qualified to compete with the students going to med school or our top business schools as occurs in those TOP countries.

    Also of note, the author did state that EVERY student from the countries she studies who came to the US to study had similar experiences stating they were shocked how “EASY” the coursework was in the US /and or how little their teachers seemed to “care” if coursework was not completed or students were falling behind.

    LASTLY: The author is a journalist who seemed to have no hidden agenda aside from trying to find some similarities which she could bring back to help the US. She seemed surprised at her own findings.

  • Johney Smith

    The PISA score result for 2012 just came out, once again, China’s Shanghai is top at all three: math, reading, science. Finland slip into number 12. The US is around average/below again. No 2, Singapore, No. 3 China’s Hong Kong,No. 4 China;s Taiwan, No. 5 S. Korea.

    Face the reality: the best of your American students dare to go to these place.

  • After reading some uninformed opinions, I felt compelled to point out a few misconceptions. Comparing the entire US public school population to Shanghai’s is apples to oranges. Why don’t you compare the entire Chinese public school population to any one of our Blue Ribbon schools instead? If you compare the average Chinese school to the average US school, you will find that we fare very well. Also, nobody ever mentions (and imho purposely so) that the international tests are administered to 15 year olds so we have to include our dropouts-to-be while in most countries, they are already gone. There are a few notable exceptions such as Poland. And then again, on top of that you have mostly homogeneous populations that speak the same language at home and where the schools don’t have to deal with educating their students to speak the language of instruction. If you consider those facts carefully, you will see that American schools do a remarkable job of dealing with the cards they’ve been dealt. Don’t blindly buy into the corporate dismantling of public education. They’re interested in your money, not your kid.