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Education

This researcher asked kids what's wrong with U.S. schools. Here are their ideas.

Who knows the most about school? Students.

education, mathematic assessment, American students, testing
Image via Amanda Ripley/PopTech.

Map demonstrating scores of the Program for International Student Assessment for each state compared to a country that has similar scores.


This is not news: America does pretty badly when it goes up against other countries academically.

This is true even if we take it one state at a time—no single state, no matter how wealthy or small, matches the top scoring countries. And yet, the U.S. spends more per student than many other countries in the world.


In the image at the top, each state is mapped to a country that had similar scores on the Program for International Student Assessment, an international test of mathematical reasoning given to 15-year-olds. The top 15 countries are in purple. No, there isn't any purple on this map.

Reporter Amanda Ripley wanted to figure out why U.S. education outcomes are so mediocre.

She started asking random people what they thought and she followed up on their ideas. The same theories came up over and over: People blamed poverty and diversity for the difference between U.S. students and students everywhere else. But when Ripley dug into the numbers, she discovered that, while those are factors, they don't fully explain the difference.

No adult could give her a satisfactory answer, so she went to the experts: kids.

Kids spend more time in school than anyone. They've got strong opinions about school. They have opinions on what is working.

She talked to the only students who could have firsthand knowledge of the differences between schools in top-performing countries and those in the U.S.: American kids who were exchange students in those countries.

She surveyed hundreds of exchange students and found three major points that they all agreed on.

The students all said that in their host countries:

  1. School is harder. There's less homework but the material is more rigorous. People take education more seriously, from selecting the content to selecting the teachers.
  2. Sports are just a hobby. In the U.S., sports are a huge distraction from the business of school, but that's not the case in other countries.
  3. Kids believe there's something in it for them. The students in other countries deeply believe that what they are doing in school affects how interesting their lives were going to be. Even if they don't like a class, they see their education as a stepping stone to their future.

To hear more from these amazing kids (and a great story about how an education reporter managed to take an international standardized test), check out the video from PopTech below:

This article originally appeared on 05.22.15


All images provided by Prudential Emerging Visionaries

Collins after being selected by Prudential Emerging Visionaries

True

A changemaker is anyone who takes creative action to solve an ongoing problem—be it in one’s own community or throughout the world.

And when it comes to creating positive change, enthusiasm and a fresh perspective can hold just as much power as years of experience. That’s why, every year, Prudential Emerging Visionaries celebrates young people for their innovative solutions to financial and societal challenges in their communities.

This national program awards 25 young leaders (ages 14-18) up to $15,000 to devote to their passion projects. Additionally, winners receive a trip to Prudential’s headquarters in Newark, New Jersey, where they receive coaching, skills development, and networking opportunities with mentors to help take their innovative solutions to the next level.

For 18-year-old Sydnie Collins, one of the 2023 winners, this meant being able to take her podcast, “Perfect Timing,” to the next level.

Since 2020, the Maryland-based teen has provided a safe platform that promotes youth positivity by giving young people the space to celebrate their achievements and combat mental health stigmas. The idea came during the height of Covid-19, when Collins recalled social media “becoming a dark space flooded with news,” which greatly affected her own anxiety and depression.

Knowing that she couldn’t be the only one feeling this way, “Perfect Timing” seemed like a valuable way to give back to her community. Over the course of 109 episodes, Collins has interviewed a wide range of guests—from other young influencers to celebrities, from innovators to nonprofit leaders—all to remind Gen Z that “their dreams are tangible.”

That mission statement has since evolved beyond creating inspiring content and has expanded to hosting events and speaking publicly at summits and workshops. One of Collins’ favorite moments so far has been raising $7,000 to take 200 underserved girls to see “The Little Mermaid” on its opening weekend, to “let them know they are enough” and that there’s an “older sister” in their corner.

Of course, as with most new projects, funding for “Perfect Timing” has come entirely out of Collins’ pocket. Thankfully, the funding she earned from being selected as a Prudential Emerging Visionary is going toward upgraded recording equipment, the support of expert producers, and skill-building classes to help her become a better host and public speaker. She’ll even be able to lease an office space that allows for a live audience.

Plus, after meeting with the 24 other Prudential Emerging Visionaries and her Prudential employee coach, who is helping her develop specific action steps to connect with her target audience, Collins has more confidence in a “grander path” for her work.

“I learned that my network could extend to multiple spaces beyond my realm of podcasting and journalism when industry leaders are willing to share their expertise, time, and financial support,” she told Upworthy. “It only takes one person to change, and two people to expand that change.”

Prudential Emerging Visionaries is currently seeking applicants for 2024. Winners may receive up to $15,000 in awards and an all-expenses-paid trip to Prudential’s headquarters with a parent or guardian, as well as ongoing coaching and skills development to grow their projects.

If you or someone you know between the ages of 14 -18 not only displays a bold vision for the future but is taking action to bring that vision to life, click here to learn more. Applications are due by Nov. 2, 2023.
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