Frequently, most Americans lament the products of the education system in the nation and accuse schools of the inability to produce competitive students across the global platform. In her book, The Smartest Kids in the World, Amanda Ripley the idea of the education system in the United States, Korea, and Finland. She looks at the experiences of American teens as students in particular foreign countries who outperform the American students on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).
Comparison of the Education System in the United States, Finland, and Korea
As Eric, Tom, and Kim move to Korea, Poland, and Finland respectively and spend a year attending schools, Ripley follows them to these countries. Ripley states that "I decided to spend a year travelling around the world on a field trip to the smart-kid countries" (p.7). These students find new places to learn based on the controversial crux of Ripley's argument that American schools do not have the rigor of other nations due to wrong priorities. When Ripley returns to the United States after visiting the three countries, she argues that, "It was obvious we'd been wasting a lot of time and money on things that didn't matter; our schools and families seemed confused, more than anything else, lacking a clarity of purpose I saw in Finland, Korea, and Poland." (p. 9). Ideally, the political alliances, benefactors, as well as mentors of Ripley allude to her beliefs in an American school system, which is failing to achieve the best outcomes. They argue that the selection of academically talented teachers and increasing spending in schools would help rectify the problem.
Promotion of school choice as charter schools will also serve crucial. Ripley developed an interest in American high schools during her investigation of the work of Michelle Rhee, a former Chancellor of Washington D.C schools. She uses her wealth of knowledge in government to investigate the relationship between human behavior and public policy. She approaches education through her background understanding of the government. In essence, she examines schools based on financial and testing outputs, as well as their effectiveness to reach diverse students. Ripley paints a black picture of the schools in the U.S through direct comparison of the cultures of schooling in different international contexts. She illustrates the life of each of students (Kim, Tom, and Eric). Precisely, she argues that the Oklahoma school where Kim is schooling lacks rigorous standards and assessments. "If states were countries, Oklahoma would have been ranked about eighty-first in the world in math, or around the same level as Croatia and Turkey" (p. 27). Ripley affirms that the current standards of education read like a compilation of facts that students have to memorize. This is evident in most of the state standards. Oklahoma is just an example of the many schools in the U.S with a low level of standards hence the American schools are not able to challenge high achieving students.
In Finland, Kim has the best educational experiences. In this nation, students have the freedom and autonomy to produce high academic expectations as teachers and parents are involved in the learning process. Finnish schools expect students to push their limits of understanding, apply the information gained, as well as connect whatever they have learned to the real world. In these schools, it is acceptable for the students to fail. In essence, this is different from the case of American schools in which students who fail have to do revisions and continual retrials. However, the Korean education system is different from that of Finland. Ripley argues that in Korea, the students spend more time studying than the time kids in the United States spend awake.
Ripley's View of What Makes an Excellent Teacher
Ripley claims that teachers need to be less emphatic towards the students they teach. In her arguments, she compares Kim's teacher in Oklahoma with her Finnish teachers. The Oklahoma teacher graduated from a local teachers' college whereas the Finnish teachers undergo rigorous training and a thorough process of selective application. Importantly, the Finnish teachers aim to "not have too much empathy for the students because I have to teach" (p. 162). These teachers lack empathy for their students hence leading to efficient student evaluations and less bias in assessments. It also eliminates relationships that would allow the teachers to understand the lives of students outside of school. As such, the Finnish teachers find it easy to differentiate instruction in classrooms to help meet the needs of learners. Ripley argues that these relationships may lead to excuses on the part of teachers hence they would blame low quality work on poor parenting or even home lives. Due to the lower poverty level in Finland, as compared to the United States, teacher empathy would occur differently in these two nations.
How Some Countries Have Managed to Hire and Retain the Best Teachers
Ideally, high performing countries incorporate useful models that enhance the effective training of their teachers. Ripley asserts that spending more on the teachers of a nation will lead to decreased spending in other areas. In most cases, successful countries tend to invest in the teachers, as well as maintain decor and furnishing of classrooms. This is different from the case of the U.S where more allocation goes to the technology sector. Through effective training, teachers give their students rigorous assignments and get support from the parents. When the teachers with skills and expertise are hired and retained, students will likely realize their expectations due to support and guidance from the teachers.
What The U.S Can Do Differently in This Area
The United States can devote funds and time to help develop the existing teachers and recruit highly qualified teachers. The funds will improve school outputs. For the existing teachers, the funds can be used in organizing training programs, which will equip the teachers with adequate knowledge and skills on how to teach. Poorly trained teachers promote stagnancy in learning hence leading to poor performance. Selective process of recruiting teachers would be of crucial concern for the American education system. However, selectivity will not in any way overturn the cultural views of the teachers.
For students to achieve high-quality education, teachers have to come into play. From the arguments presented in Ripley's The Smartest Kids in the World, it is evident that teachers play a vital role in preparing students for the future global market. Proper training of teachers provides an opportunity to develop an understanding of classroom practices and activities. Concisely, the experiences of students in Finland offer valuable lessons for the American school system.
Ripley, A. (2013). The smartest kids in the world: And how they got that way. New York: Simon and Schuster.
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