by Steve Sailer
With the release of new PISA test scores for 65 countries’ 15-year-olds this week, it’s worth taking a look at TIME reporter Amanda Ripley’s latest book The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got that Way.
Ripley came up with the clever idea of following three American high schoolers as exchange students in Finland, South Korea, and Poland. She chose Finland and South Korea because they are perennial PISA powerhouses, while Poland has improved its ranking significantly in this century.
Her sample size of three American kids abroad is hardly foolproof, and yet it’s a start. Everybody has opinions on schooling, but few people have firsthand experience with different countries’ school systems because it’s immensely time-consuming to sit in on classrooms long enough that the teacher runs out of her dog-and-pony shows for visitors and finally gets down to normal business.
Having only recently become interested in the topic of education, Ripley is a true believer in PISA scores.
Should you be? In truth, nobody seems to really know how much to trust PISA and its ace salesman Andreas Schleicher. ... The sheer logistical challenge of what PISA attempts to do should raise common-sense questions about how perfectly 65 countries can be compared. Translation of tests, selection of representative samples, and prevention of local authorities putting their thumbs on the scale are challenges so daunting to get exactly equal around the world that most observers just seem to hope for the best and trust that Schleicher has somehow devised a globally level playing field.