Development & Education

Where in the world are they getting education right?

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Credit: EJP Photo/Flickr

The US got underwhelming scores today on the international standardized test known as the Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA). The test ranks the scores of 15-year-old students from around the world.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

While American teens scored in the middle of the pack for students in the developed world in reading and science, they lagged behind in math.

Journalist Amanda Ripley was encouraged by the results from other countries around the world. Ripley is the author of "The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way." 

"I was very encouraged and surprised to see the number of countries that are now performing in the top tier that also have significant levels of child poverty," Ripley says. "They are the not the Nordic utopia of Finland that you hear about."

Ripley is referring to countries like Vietnam and Poland. In fact, Poland, according to Ripley, has taken great leaps since the first PISA test was given in 2000. Ripley says the US might look at the policies Poland has used to advance its score and those might help the US jump-start its flatlined results.

"One thing that all the countries that have improved have done is they have agreed on a set of higher standards of what kids should know, a more coherent plan for where the kids are headed," she says.

Another factor contributing to Polish success is that they delay the separation of students by ability. Most countries, including the US, divide students into groups: those headed to universities and those headed for vocational school or no post-high school education at all.

"The longer you keep kids together in an academic setting, the better that all kids do, including the kids that are headed to university anyway," Ripley says.

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