Ripley's book reads like part-research, part-anecdote of a select few educational systems around the world. Is this a book worth reading? I would say yes, with the caveat that we aren't talking about deep research of the Diane Ravitch sort. This is pretty breezy investigative journalism that asks way more questions than offers meaningful answers.
So, what did I take away?
- Most countries spend far, far less on technology than the United States, yet we have no significant learning gains that can be attributed to our tech.
- American families seem far more interested in their kids' athletic events then their educational progress. Ouch.
- South Korea is creating a society of exceptional test-takers who spend upwards of 14 hours a day in school. It is the truest, and ugliest, form of meritocracy in existence. Students don't have a discernible childhood in South Korea. The government and the people resent the system in place but can't figure out how to fix it. The public education system is so broken that many students sleep during daytime classes and take private tutoring most of the night.
- Finland comes across as a utopia. Teachers have autonomy, are well paid, and are well-respected. Finland attracts the higher-achieving college students to the profession (top 10%), trains them rigorously, and uses complex performance evaluations. Oh, and students seem to value education.
**I think the idea of comparing the United States to other developed countries is a pretty idea that doesn't quite work out.
- Finland population: 5.4 million
- United States population: 313 million
- Finland Teachers: 44,000 (Finland has fewer total students than New York City)
- United States Teachers: 2.4 million
- Finland demographics: 90% Finnish (95% born in Finland)
- United States demographics: white 62%%, Hispanic 17.1% Black 13%, Mixed 9.1%, Asian 4.75%
- Finland Childhood poverty: less than 4%
- US Childhood poverty: 22%
This list could go on and on and on. Though diversity, poverty, population, and demographics don't mean that a nation will struggle with educational outcomes, these are confounding factors that can't easily be glossed-over. Ripley argues that there are analogous comparisons between the two, and I'd agree that we have things to learn from other countries--especially Finland. However, like most complex issues [read: gun control, taxation, health care], the answer to the problem is multi-faceted and not easy to pin down.