the smartest kids in the world by Amanda Ripley – Lessons and Takeaways


Smartest KidsI presented my synopsis of the smartest kids in the world…and how they got that way by Amanda Ripley at yesterday’s Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by CitySquare. (Let me first stipulate that I would not have been one of the smartest kids in the world in my day)…

I was pretty disturbed by reading this book (as I often am by reading the books I read for the Urban Engagment Book Club). Books on poverty, social justice, education, are long on “look at this huge problem,” and sadly, we are so very slow to make progress….

You know the current rankings. The United States ranks as middle to lower than middle in international educational outcomes. Even our best schools do not keep up…  From the book:

The typical child in Beverly Hills performed below average, compared to all kids in Canada (not some other distant land, Canada!).

In case you don’t know about this book, Amanda Ripley, a journalist, who had resisted writing about education (“I didn’t say so out loud, but education stories seemed, well, kind of soft”), ended up following three foreign exchange students from the United States to their foreign schools in Finland, Poland, and South Korea. One noticeable finding – school in the United States is simply not as demanding as in these other countries. Again, from the book:

International and U.S. students agreed that school in the United States was easier than school abroad. In countries with strong education systems, school is actually harder.
…even students from lower-achieving countries overwhelmingly reported that U.S. school was easier.

At the end of the book, Ms. Ripley offers her lessons and takeaways. Here is my compilation from that chapter — the author’s “lessons,” from the author herself:

  1. Every child is different.
  2. Beyond a certain baseline level, money does not translate into quality in education anywhere.
  3. Average class size? Not as important as most people think, except in the earliest years of schooling.
  4. The research shows that the quality of the teaching matters more than the size of the class.
  5. Remember that rigorous learning actually looks rigorous.
  6. There should be a sense of urgency that you can feel.
  7. Resist the urge to focus on the teacher. (focus on what the students are actually doing).
  8. Be practically panicky about too many bored students.
  9. To buy into school, kids need to be reminded of the purpose all day, everyday.
  10. Can kids ask – and, get an answer! – when they don’t understand something? (The answer to this needs to be “yes”).
  11. Care more about math than football. (Do the students; and their parents! – care more about math than about football?)
  12. Parents as coaches are key! Do parents help more with their children’s learning than they do with earning money in bake sales? (The real impact happens mostly at home.
  13. Principals have to be world-class talent spotters, hiring only the best… (You can’t choose your kid’s teacher; but if you can choose the principal…)

If you read this book along with How Children Succeed by Paul Tough, you get a feel for the challenges we face.How Children Succeed

Good, disturbing book… 

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