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

10. Coming Home

  • After their year abroad, Amanda’s research kids had different experiences. Kim had to finish high school and wanted no part of her old high school. Fortunately for her, Oklahoma offered an online option that she took advantage of. To enhance her social life she joined a book club and took dance classes. My sense is that virtual schools might not be the best for some kids, but they seemed to be a good fit for kids like Kim.
  • When Tom got beck from Poland he missed the freedom of wandering the streets and drinking beer with his friends. He soon enrolled at Vassar and discovered he was less well prepared then the prep school kids he was in with. He was, however, able to adapt as it was clear he needed to work on text analysis and knowledge of the classics.
  • Eric found that he was over prepared for life at DePaul University in Chicago, but he did like life in the big city as he did in Korea. It’s clear that the level of rigor in American schools varies a great deal. The students also found that standards for physical things where higher in the US as they all had to take physical fitness tests. The foreign schools were more serious, the teachers better prepared, and there was a big test at the end that mostly mattered to the students themselves. The students also had more independence even though it seemed like they were on a hamster wheel in school where they learned what is was like to fail, work harder, and do better. Meanwhile, American parents were much more likely to show up at games than have any other meaningful involvement.
  • Amanda’s big take away is that all children must learn rigorous higher-order thinking to thrive in the modern world. The only way to do that is by creating a serious intellectual culture in schools, one that kids can sense is real and true.

Appendix 1: How to Spot a World-Class Education

  • If you want to gauge the quality of a school, there is no substitute for a visit. When you do, focus on what the students are doing in classrooms and common areas. Are they paying attention? Are the working hard? Worry less about order than if the students seem to be enjoying what they are doing. Learning can happen in noisy places. If possible talk to the students. Ask them what they are doing? You can also ask general questions about how they like the class and the teacher. If they don’t understand something, what do they do? Talk to parents. Hopefully they will praise the school’s learning culture rather than the football team.
  • When searching for a school the leader matters more than any other factor. It’s the decisions that a principal makes about who to hire, how to train, and who to let go that matter more than all the high tech gadgets in the world. If the principal lacks the autonomy to hire, you can’t expect to have a great school. Look for situations where teachers get meaningful feedback, have customized professional development, and have opportunities to collaborate and plan together. Avoid situations where the arts, science, social studies, and recess have been cut back to focus on test prep.

Appendix II – AFS Student Experience Survey

  • The book ends with a look at this survey and it’s results that served as part of the data that Amanda used for this book.
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