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The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  6,295 ratings  ·  1,104 reviews
Through the compelling stories of three American teenagers living abroad and attending the world’s top-notch public high schools, an investigative reporter explains how these systems cultivate the “smartest” kids on the planet.

America has long compared its students to top-performing kids of other nations. But how do the world’s education superpowers look through the eyes o
Hardcover, 306 pages
Published August 13th 2013 by Simon & Schuster (first published August 1st 2013)
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Community Reviews

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A take-away from this book - it is better for a country to spend money on its teachers: training, recruiting, hiring and paying them than to spend so much on technology.
Jordan Wagge
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Brian Williams
This is what journalism should be about, telling a story from a different perspective and digging into the details. Most reporting on education is pathetically superficial and simply rehashes the common narrative. Amanda Ripley takes on the topic with analytical rigor and good personal story telling. This isn't a wishy washy book lamenting the state of United States failing school system. It's full of hope and actionable information on what makes schools good and what doesn't. Ripley does dispel ...more
The problem with this book was that all the research was based on something called the PISA test, which was given in countries around the world. The statistical sample of the US was a whopping 5,233 kids in 165 schools. This is inadequate, ridiculously small sample from which the author draws her conclusions. Ripley is also not an educator, has never taught, and from what she says in the book, didn't seem to spend much time in American schools. I found some of her rhetoric over the top. And her ...more
Sadly, very, very few people are qualified to write accurately about education. Count Amanda Ripley as one who is not. This book is riddled with errors and flawed analyses; in many cases Ripley simply ignores the data in order to present an appealing picture. I certainly won't spend money on such a flawed book. It's scary thinking about how many readers will get conned by reading this book. See Bob Somerby's blog posts about the book on The Daily Howler:

I'm approaching this one more as a mom than as an educator. As such, my comments reflect that perspective rather than a critical reading. I'm interested in how kids get an education that they think of as good. I'm interested in their experiences as students abroad.

p. 32. -- When Kim got into the Duke summer program for gifted and talented kids and she said to her mom "This is my chance to be normal!" I just cried. In so many schools, kids who are interested in learning are ridiculed or just subt
Chase Parsley
Let me start off by saying that I wanted to like this book. Instead, it left me disappointed. In an age of education "reform" and magic bullets, I was originally drawn to the book because I heard it described the Finnish education system, which is all the rage (for the right reasons) today. I applaud author Amanda Ripley for thinking outside the USA's borders.

This book is set up, lamely in my opinion, as a case study of 3 American high school students who study abroad in Finland, South Korea, an
Elizabeth A
Book blurb: What is it like to be a child in the world's new education superpowers? In a global quest to find answers for our own children, author and Time magazine journalist Amanda Ripley follows three Americans embedded in these countries for one year. Kim, fifteen, raises $10,000 so she can move from Oklahoma to Finland; Eric, eighteen, exchanges a high-achieving Minnesota suburb for a booming city in South Korea; and Tom, seventeen, leaves a historic Pennsylvania village for Poland.

I listen
Laura Leaney
Nov 05, 2013 Laura Leaney rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: teachers/parents/taxpayers who fund American schools
Amanda Ripley says in her "Author's Note," that she wanted to believe "it was possible to write a not-boring book about education," and I think she succeeded. Whatever the book is, it's not boring. It's always fascinating to read about how other countries handle the same issues that the U.S. can't seem to manage consistently well: criminal justice, pollution, healthcare, and education, to name a few. Because some of the world's largest problems are managed by government bureaucrats, trying to br ...more
John Spillane
I think this should be required audiobooking, it's an endlessly interesting topic, and despite what NEA readers may say I think the book seems agendaless and balanced. "This should have stayed/been only a New Yorker article" is a critique/dis I'm way too often forced to make, but this kept going strongish throughout with no retread from other audiobookable titles save the "how to praise your child" bit from Po Bronson's superb Nutureshock.

Another reviewer linked to a blog post that I found not u
Well, another non-educator has all the answers...but she writes very well and she tells a good story.

I was asked to read this book by a local lawmaker who wants to discuss the points. So I took notes...7 pages of 8-point notes.

Let's start with the title...'smartest kids in the world.' How is this measured? Life accomplishments? Nobel Prizes? Inventions? Nope. Test scores. The PISA test, in particular. Kids are measured as smart or not smart based on the scores of one test. AND how many US kids
Sep 09, 2014 Owlseyes marked it as to-read
Shelves: education
Taking the recent Portuguese panorama on Education, this book is very adequate,…it’s on-time, I would say. Experts in Portugal speak of a “too centralistic” administration of the Education field; math and sciences stats are far bellow the best of OCDE-OECD: Norway, namely; secondary level completion placing Portugal near the low levels of Turkey and Mexico; plus, a low level of investment (per GDP) in Education. This is the ongoing panorama.

Ripley gives some clues on how to change. She conducte
Small class size does not correlate to high student achievement
Use of technology in teaching does not correlate to high student achievement
Money spent per student does not correlate to high student achievement
Strong teacher unions do correlate to high student achievement
A clearly defined national standard where teachers have autonomy to determine how to reach that standard does correlate to high student achievement
Having high expectations for all students regardless of background, economic statu
Steven Peterson
This is a very well written narrative on why certain countries' students perform so well scholastically. Amanda Ripley is a journalist, and her writing style is captivating.

The book focuses on why Finland, South Korea, and Poland do so well in terms of student scores on a test (PISA) that measures creative and critical thinking. Page 3 features a chart that co9mpares a number of different countries on their students' performance, based on results from a number of tests. The United States does no
Kellie Reynolds
Amanda Ripley followed three high school students who spent one year as foreign exchange students (Finland, South Korea, Poland). She spends some time on background (for individual students and describing how each of the three countries improved its educational system).

Ripley wrote the book when Common Core State Standards were just beginning to be implemented in the US. None the US data she discusses are based on post-Common Core implementation.

The book is easy to read and thought provoking. I
A journalist's POV of our educational system (and heck, why not, everyone else is jumping in). Amanda Ripley especially laments our poor performance in math compared to other nations of the world. One possibility, she points out, is the slow start and negative attitudes from elementary schools where many teachers (generalists) are weak at math or loathe math or make math play second fiddle to Columbus sailing the ocean blue in fourteen-hundred-ninety-two. Ripley points out how math is playing an ...more
Andrew Obrigewitsch
This was quite good. It was very well researched and really opened my eyes the fact that the U.S. education system has pretty much degenerated into mediocrity. Which I can support with own experiences in high school.

Highly recommended to anyone that cares about the future.
This was a very interesting read and one that I would recommend to all parents, educators and anyone interested in improving the quality of education here, there, anywhere. It is not a how-to book by any stretch, nor does the author claim to have all the answers and in fact it all began with her simple quest to understand the huge discrepancies that exist between various countries' student test scores. This book is the result of that investigation. It provides a lot of valuable insights and obse ...more
Jul 06, 2014 Sera rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sera by: Book Page Magazine
An excellent book that grapples with what makes a country's educational system successful (or not). Of course, the U.S. lags behind, particularly in the areas of math and science. The author puts forth her theories based upon a standardized global test that ranks each country and provides the personal experiences of students who have been educated both in the U.S. and abroad. Specifically, Ripley focuses on Finland, South Korea and Poland and compares their educational systems to the one in the ...more
Teachers, Administrators, Parents, Anyone Who Cares About Education: read this!

I really liked this book because I've seen a lot of the research and articles before as an educator. It's fairly common knowledge that the US is struggling with learning, especially when measured against other countries. While the facts were familiar, the insight that Ripley provided into not just our education system but other successful education systems worldwide was revelatory and sometimes unsettling.

Some might
Aaron Thibeault
*A full executive summary of this book is available here:

The main argument: In the recent past the K-12 public education system in the United States has been lackluster at best (some might say deplorable). Not that the various levels of government have not put in a great deal of effort (and money) to try and fix the problem; indeed, numerous attempts at education reform have been tried over the past 20 years or so, and the US currently spends more on publ
A thought provoking book about a topic I deeply care about - educating our children. I worry all the time. Are they learning enough? Are they not learning enough? Are they being challenged? Are they bored? How much homework is too much? Am I coddling them too much? Am I a helicopter parent? Am I a tiger mom?

It was interesting to see the comparisons in the way we educate our children in different parts of the world. There might be many ways the US might be lacking, but what I like about the US i
Alex Templeton
Often, one of the best ways to learn about yourself is to look at people very different from you. I definitely felt like I had a new window into the American educational system and its priorities by reading this book. Ripley profiles three different educational systems: those in Finland, South Korea, and Poland, both through research into their history and through the anecdotal experiences of three American exchange students who spent time in each country. Ripley shows the successes and the fail ...more
Did you know that across the globe the US ranks 26th in math, 17th in science and 12th in reading? Sadly our scores are barely increasing. However counties like Finland, have show a drastic improvement shooting to the top of the world. In the 1950's in Finland only 10% of students graduated from high school, that number is now 95%. What did Finland do to bring on these enormous improvements?

In The Smartest Kids in the World, Amanda Ripley doesn't just look at what the schools policies are and th
Shirley Freeman
I loved this! If every parent, educator and politician in the country read this book, and acted on it, we'd be most of the way toward fixing our broken education system. Amanda Ripley looked closely at the data comparing critical thinking ability of 15 year-olds across the world and she knew she had to figure out what was going on. Kids in Finland and Korea knew far more than kids in the US but that had changed dramatically since 1960. Kids in Norway fared worse than their neighbors in Finland b ...more
An interesting and engrossing book, although Ripley's writing style is a bit informal for me. I noticed some misplaced apostrophes (which I know is the editor's fault), but that made me smirk a bit, considering the subject matter.

I'm not sure that I learned anything new from this book, although it reinforced what I'd heard before, and believed based on my own experience (20+ years ago) in American high school. We desperately need what Ripley calls "rigor" in our educational system. Parents need
Oliver Schnusenberg
What food for thought! As an academic, I naturally like the fact that Ms. Ripley stresses rigor as one of the underlying forces behind a successful education system. I don't think there is a single colleague of mine that would argue with the fact that the standards have been going and are continuing to go down year after year. Yet there is precious little that is done about this.

I completely agree that the problem is one of the underlying cultural aspects. In societies where learning is embrace
This book examines the details behind the PISA (Program or International Student Assessment) tests and the poor showing by American students in that test, relative to other developed countries. Key to the book is that the study results suggest that while some developed nations exceed the performance of American students, others do not exceed US performance (or exceed to a limited degree). The author seeks to shed light on this discrepancy in scores by comparing US schools with those in Finland, ...more
The rating system doesn't allow for as high as I would rate this. Where's Bo Derek's 10 when you need it? Get this. Read it! Make changes in your kids' education! Sleep better.
This book is a fascinating exploration of the differences between American education and that of Finland, Korea, and Poland. The author shares her research, insights and opinion, and I found all to be incredibly interesting. She also follows the experiences of American Exchange students attending schools in these countries which adds a great deal to the conversation. It's a surprisingly compelling read. I found the book title incredibly off-putting, but I highly recommend the book to anyone inte ...more
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From the author's website:

Amanda Ripley is an investigative journalist for Time, The Atlantic and other magazines. She is the author, most recently, of The Smartest Kids in the World--and How They Got That Way, a New York Times bestseller. Her first book, The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes--and Why, was published in 15 countries and turned into a PBS documentary.
More about Amanda Ripley...
The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why The case against high school sports

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“I’d been looking around the world for clues as to what other countries were doing right, but the important distinctions were not about spending or local control or curriculum; none of that mattered very much. Policies mostly worked in the margins. The fundamental difference was a psychological one. The education superpowers believed in rigor. People in these countries agreed on the purpose of school: School existed to help students master complex academic material. Other things mattered, too, but nothing mattered as much.” 6 likes
“Statistically speaking, tracking tended to diminish learning and boost inequality wherever it was tried. In general, the younger tracking happened, the worse the entire country did on PISA. There seemed to be some kind of ghetto effect: once kids were labeled and segregated into the lower track, their learning slowed down.” 3 likes
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