the smartest kids in the world: and how they got that way by Amanda Ripley

8. Difference

  • Back in Finland, we see that they have only has one big test, but it is high-stakes for students as it determines if they go to college. The US, on the other hand, has tons of tests that don’t mean much to students. This could explain why Finnish students take school more seriously. Finnish exams also feature more in the way of essays rather than multiple choice. Amanda admits that the fact that all three cultures studied here are way more homogeneous than the US is an issue. Economics is also more of an issue in the US, and poor and minority kids are more likely to face inferior teaching, lower expectations, and more tracking.
  • A big difference in Finland is that they bring special education services to more students as soon as possible. They also view learning difficulties as temporary rather than permanent. Finland has one of the highest proportion of special education teachers in the world. Half of Finnish students receive special education services at some point and during any year, twice as many as the US. As the Finnish see it, we need to select our teachers more carefully and reward them rather than look for ways to punish them. Unlike the US, Finland has almost no private schools and about half of their high school students choose to to to job-training schools in high school.

9. The $4 Million Teacher

  • The Korean hagwon after school system is totally market driven. The best teachers get more students and more money. The top teachers can make millions each year when you add in their publishing income. The teachers on the night shift are widely considered better than those who teach at the day schools. The parents with the most wealth get private tutors, parents with a bit less send their kids to the best hagwons, while the poorest can’t afford any after school lessons. Hagwon teachers are way more in touch with parents than just about any teachers in the US. It’s clear that without hagwons, Korea would not be a high flyer on the PISA tests.
  • Kids who get the best after school program tend to score highest on high-stakes exams and get into the best universities. This tends to get them the best jobs when they graduate. As a result, the wealthy class reproduces itself. Ironically, the government realizes that the hagwon system is not good for kids and tries to fight it without much luck. Our student-researcher Eric finally gave up on is Korean high school and transferred to a vocational school. This appeared to be a smart move as the common perception is that “no one should have to go to a Korean high school.”
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