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

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  12,418 ratings  ·  1,842 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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Tammy The book seems more helpful for parents or government types, but it does have a few points that teachers might find helpful. I'd give it a chance, if …moreThe book seems more helpful for parents or government types, but it does have a few points that teachers might find helpful. I'd give it a chance, if you're not too busy.(less)

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Brian Williams
Oct 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Dec 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Cindy Rollins
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
As an educator, I would say this is a must read even though it is truly just an introduction to the subject.
I would have
loved to hear more about the Finnish schools. I like how they combine rigorous standards with teacher autonomy.
Good teachers will find a way to teach if given the opportunity which they are not in American schools. I also liked the illustration in the appendix about what happened when a teacher in the US gave a little girl an F. She (and her mother) complained about being 'gi
Kaethe Douglas
Sep 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education, nonfiction
This was fascinating, and not only because it mentioned International Baccalaureate programs. Ripley compares USian schools to those of other nations through the lens of foreign exchange students' experiences. I wanted to read it more or less as an adjunct to The Importance of Being Little to give a fuller picture of education from preschool to college, highlighting some of the places that do it exceptionally well.

The US does well by some students, those with the greatest advantages to start wit
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
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 condu
Laura Leaney
Sep 16, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Elizabeth A
Mar 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, 2015, non-fiction
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
Mar 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooked
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
Aug 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Kellie Reynolds
Dec 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
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
Feb 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
I found this book insightful at times, but mostly, it just frustrated the hell out of me. As a teacher, I don't need to have the challenges and shortfalls of the American education system listed off to me; I live that reality every day. I was also frustrated by Ripley's habit of holding up observations with the implication that correlation equals causation. I'm left to draw the conclusion that American schools are failing because teachers 1) only come to the profession because we really want to ...more
Steven Peterson
Sep 02, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jun 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I’m so glad I read this book. Things I took away, in no particular order are
1) rigor- it’s an important piece to education. Having it will greatly help a child and their drive to do well
2) how teachers are trained, educated and supported in their schools is super important
3) we need to set higher expectations from our kids and stop assuming their can’t do something.
4) a coach mentality in education may be more helpful than a friend mentality (which seems to be what many teachers and parents
Andrew Obrigewitsch
Nov 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: educational
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.
Aaron Thibeault
Sep 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
*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
May 24, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is an anecdotal, journalistic approach to a huge topic, so it makes for some good magazine articles, but not a great book. Other reviews here bring up numerous positive and specific points I won't repeat. What struck me most was the lack at the end of a model metropolitan school system anywhere in the US. Without that, the lessons from the world tour are hard to interpret. The one place I have heard of with general success across a whole American county was Raleigh: Hope and Despair in the ...more
K's Corner
Feb 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Julian Douglass
Apr 13, 2020 rated it liked it
This was an interesting book comparing three American students as they go off and study in different countries and experience a different education system. While the book seemed interesting from the begining, I feel that this was a surface level introduction to comparative education systems.

1) Ms. Ripley spent more time talking about the students at home than in their own countries. I get that she puts the full study in a link that people can go and read, but then why publish a book? Considerin
Nov 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Really, really insightful and good. A few important points:

1. American schools spend way too much time and money on sport, at the expense of academics
2. High expectations produce good academic results if everyone's invested in them
3. Teenagers need freedom and responsibility and the opportunity to fail and face the consequences
4. Academic tracking before the age of about 16 is worse than useless - it labels bright kids bright and they think they don't have to work, and it labels less bright kid
Elyse  Walters
Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Great Book Club Pick (which is this month's local book club pick)

Easy Fast reading -- (enjoyable --not 'textbook' style). Has a very 'human' quality-style --- REAL people --REAL characters ---REAL stories. (3 American kids travel other countries, etc.)

I can't prove the factual data presented --(if accurate or not) --but if its even 'close' to being the truth --- WOW --- this book is 'eye-opening'.

I took away many things to think about. Looks pretty clear to me why many kids in our country do n
May 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Overall I think this book is great and makes some very good points. BUT... why, oh why do books like this have to be dumbed-down so much? Why do I feel like the author is trying to make it sound a bit more like a bestseller novel? Maybe she wants it to be more accessible to a wider audience. I just feel like my intelligence is being slightly insulted with every turn of the page.

I am interested in the research, VERY interested, so I want to keep going. But I wish Amanda Ripley would a "Researcher
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Region 10 Prof Reads: The Smartest Kids 1 6 Mar 02, 2017 08:09AM  
LMS "Smartest Kid...: Fair Day Meeting #1 4 6 Oct 25, 2015 08:31PM  
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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.

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18 likes · 8 comments
“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.” 7 likes
“Most Korean parents saw themselves as coaches, while American parents tended to act more like cheerleaders.” 6 likes
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