Amanda Ripley

The Smartest Kids in the World

Even in reading, a gulf of more than ninety points separated America’s most-advantaged kids from their least-advantaged peers. By comparison, only thirty-three points separated Korea’s most-privileged and least-privileged students, and almost all of them scored higher than their American counterparts. U.S. Education Secretary Rod

In 2009, U.S. teenagers ranked twenty-sixth on the PISA math test, seventeenth in science, and twelfth in reading. We ranked second in the world in just one thing, spending per pupil. (The only country that spent more was Luxembourg, a place with fewer people than Nashville, Tennessee.) The implications of that waste were painful to think about. Economists had found an almost one-to-one match between PISA scores

**Note:** 4.0

If the United States had Finland’s PISA scores, GDP would be increasing at the rate of one to two trillion dollars per year.

**Note:** wha!

Internationally, the average eighth grade math textbook was 225 pages long; in the United States, eighth grade math texts averaged 800 pages. That was about 300 pages longer than all thirteen volumes of Euclid’s Elements.

Students have been shown to be highly reliable observers of their teachers and classroom environments. The Measures of Effective Teaching Project, an effort by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to understand good teaching, has found that student ratings are consistent across different groups of students taught by the same teacher and strongly related to gains in academic achievement. It only makes sense to ask students what they know.

International and U.S. students agreed that school in the United States was easier than school abroad. In all, 92 percent of international students and 70 percent of U.S. students said school in the United States was easier than school abroad.

Of all students, 91 percent of international students and 62 percent of U.S. students said U.S. students placed more importance on doing well in sports than did students abroad

In any case, the unparalleled importance of athletic achievement at U.S. high schools should be the subject of serious debate. Sports, for all the value they offer, also siphon money and attention from classroom learning. It is their relative importance—not their absolute existence—that is worrisome.