Finland, Korea, Poland

Insight From Abroad

This weekend I read The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley. It contrasts the US’s education system with those of countries leading the globe in student outcomes.

Written like a fast paced novel, the treatise follows a handful of real-life students and all the stakeholders involved in their schooling. Using their stories as a backdrop to broader critical questions about US education, it answers them with comprehensive data. It clearly outlines the research for readers who want to take a deeper data dive when they’re done.

Ripley’s refreshing macro look transcends a topic that so often gets bogged down in politics, unions, and good intentions. To many of us who have been in the classroom, her findings are both enlightening and common sense.

I most appreciated where she contradicted my thoughts from 5 years ago. We similarly emphasized the importance of teacher training and sourcing, principals, parental involvement, and culture attitudes toward education; but she did not conclude that teacher evaluation is critical. And it makes perfect sense to me now: If you get the earlier pieces right, if you train grads to be great teachers and you make the profession competitive by limiting the entry points, there is no need to spend so much energy culling low performers later on. The carrot, not the stick!

What About Tech?

One more conclusion of interest — Ripley and others found that technology has zero effect on outcomes, and represents a tremendous waste of critical budget resources.

So why in the world are we building Classkick???

I completely agree that technology to date has had little premium on learning. It’s why I got into education tech in the first place. Is technology destined to be ineffective forever? Certainly not, if the sweat and tears of the Classkick team is to be believed!

As a teacher, I dismissed almost every tool our school bought because they never helped my students. Our teachers, who Ripley upholds as the atomic element in the equation to increase learning, had little say in what tools we used. Those decisions went to administrators who, by definition, are less connected with the class’s learning. Well today, thanks mostly to school broadband proliferation, teachers can vote with their feet. That’s why tech in the classroom will be different this time. We want to build products folks can pick up and run with, and if the product doesn’t carry its weight and then some, we hope teachers drop it.

We’re here to build technology that demonstrably increases student outcomes and makes kids and teachers happy. And we’ll keep sweating and tearing until we do.