Wherever I go, from Santiago to Seoul, I am always comforted to hear one consistently positive thing said about Americans: we may not be the wisest or the thinnest people on the planet, but we can think outside of the box! The world will give us that...
How does the new SAT compare to the university entrance exam in a place like South Korea?
It’s odd, isn’t it? Given all our angst about education, you’d think we would be more interested in the opinions of the people who know it best.
When Elina came to America from Finland at age 16, all she knew about American high schools she’d learned from movies. She thought every street would look like Rodeo Drive, and every Friday would be like prom night.
In 2000, Polish 15-year-olds scored below average for the developed world (and below American teens) on an international test of critical thinking. Twelve years later, they ranked at the top of the world--up there with Finland and Canada, and well above the U.S.
What happened in Poland? How did a big country with a high rate of child poverty evolve from a communist backwater into an education powerhouse?
Christmas came early this year. The new PISA results are out. (PISA = a relatively sophisticated test of critical thinking administered to half a million 15 year-olds every three years in 65 countries.) This year is especially intriguing for the US because the focus is on math—our biggest weakness.
So I’ve been hunkered down, reading through the 3,000 pages of analysis and data—which go far beyond what you read in the headlines—to see what we can learn.
As I travel around the country talking to people about The Smartest Kids, I keep running into the same objection: "Other countries only test some of their kids; we test all of our kids"...
The boy who inspired me to leave the country was named Wilfried Hounyo. I met him while reporting in DC public schools for Time a few years ago. Wilfried's parents had recently moved him and his four brothers and sisters to the U.S. from Benin, a tiny country in West Africa, so that the children could get a better education and have a brighter future.
“As hard as you are working now, that’s how hard I worked in third grade--to get into the middle school that got me into the high school that got me into Stanford.”
For most of my career at Time and other magazines, I worked hard to avoid education stories.