It wasn’t until I lived in Norway (with my wife and daughters in kindergarten, fourth grade and sixth grade) that I took explicit notice of the fact that Norway, with many commonalities with Finland – consistently one of the highest performers on PISA – actually scores about as poorly as the United States How could this be?
When my fourth grader, who didn’t start school until 9 a.m.,got home shortly after 1:30 p.m. (when school got out), I began to see some possible issues... In fact, over the course of that year, I noted many aspects of the Norwegian educational system that might explain those low test scores: a more limited emphasis on early education in comparison to many other countries along with low levels of instructional time, very few tests, little homework, and the lack of any marks, grades or formal feedback before the end of 7th grade.
But as I thought about it, and as I saw how happy my children were going off to school (on their own, on the subway…), I realized that I could use the PISA scores to argue that the Norwegian system wasn’t doing as badly as the U.S. In fact, I started to tell my Norwegian colleagues that they should say that Norway was doing as well as the U.S. (and almost the OECD average) without even trying.
If you watch Skate Europe, Season 2: Sweden, you'll similarly learn that in at least one Swedish city, you can attend a skateboarding-centric high school -- and again, end up matching the US's test scores while having a lot more fun.
You'll also get a reminder of what powerful cultural exports the US has enjoyed -- in particular the global reach of a few kids in Portland, Oregon who started messing around with bags of concrete under a bridge.