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

by

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

ISBN13: 9781451654424
ISBN10: 1451654421
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Awards

Staff Pick

Finally! The book on education has been written. Check your assumptions at the door because only hard data earn respect as Ripley cuts through myths and unsupported opinions. Follow the engrossing story of three American students studying in Finland, South Korea, and Poland, all of which outperform America academically. Their perspectives provide perfect launching points for understanding where we've gone wrong — and how we can inject rigor into our own schools. Critical yet hopeful, this was the one I'd been waiting for.
Recommended by Benjamin H., Powells.com

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

How Do Other Countries Create “Smarter” Kids?

In a handful of nations, virtually all children are learning to make complex arguments and solve problems they’ve never seen before. They are learning to think, in other words, and to thrive in the modern economy.

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.

Through these young informants, Ripley meets battle-scarred reformers, sleep-deprived zombie students, and a teacher who earns $4 million a year. Their stories, along with groundbreaking research into learning in other cultures, reveal a pattern of startling transformation: none of these countries had many “smart” kids a few decades ago. Things had changed. Teaching had become more rigorous; parents had focused on things that mattered; and children had bought into the promise of education.

A journalistic tour de force, The Smartest Kids in the World is a book about building resilience in a new world — as told by the young Americans who have the most at stake.

Review:

"Though the U.S. spends more to educate its students than almost any other country, its teenagers rank 26th in math, below Finland (third), Korea (second), and Poland (19th). Yet in 'a handful of eclectic nations... virtually all kids learning critical thinking skills in math, science, and reading.' Setting out to discover how this happened, veteran journalist Ripley (The Unthinkable) recounts the experiences of three American teens studying abroad for a year in the education superpowers. Fifteen-year-old Kim raises $10,000 so she can go to high school in Finland; Eric, 18, trades a leafy suburb in Minnesota for a 'city stacked on top of a city' in South Korea; and Tom, 17, leaves Gettysburg, Pa., for Poland. In addition to these three teenagers, Ripley interviews educators, students, reform-minded education ministers, and others. In riveting prose, Ripley's cross-cultural research shows how the education superpowers value rigor above all else; the 'unholy alliance' between sports and academics in the U.S.; why math eludes the average American teenager; what parents in the educationally successful countries do; and how the child poverty rate doesn't necessarily affect educational outcomes. This timely and inspiring book offers many insights into how to improve America's mediocre school system. Agent: Esmond Harmsworth, Zachary Shuster Harmsworth." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Review:

"[Ripley] gets well beneath the glossy surfaces of these foreign cultures and manages to make our own culture look newly strange....The question is whether the startling perspective provided by this masterly book can also generate the will to make changes." New York Times Book Review

Review:

"Compelling....What is Poland doing right? And what is America doing wrong? Amanda Ripley, an American journalist, seeks to answer such questions in The Smartest Kids in the World, her fine new book about the schools that are working around the globe....Ms. Ripley packs a startling amount of insight in this slim book." The Economist

Review:

"[T]he most illuminating reporting I have ever seen on the differences between schools in America and abroad." Jay Mathews, education columnist, The Washington Post

Review:

"[The Smartest Kids in the World is] a riveting new book....Ripley's policy recommendations are sensible and strong....The American school reform debate has been desperately in need of such no-nonsense advice, which firmly puts matters of intellect back at the center of education where they belong." The Daily Beast

Review:

"The Smartest Kids in the World should be on the back-to-school reading list of every parent, educator and policymaker interested in understanding why students in other countries outperform U.S. students on international tests." US News & World Report

Review:

"Gripping....Ripley's characters are fascinating, her writing style is accessible, and her observations are fresh....If you're interested in how to improve public schools, read Ripley's book today." The Huffington Post

Review:

"In riveting prose...this timely and inspiring book offers many insights into how to improve America's mediocre school system." Publishers Weekly, starred review

Review:

"If you care about education, you must read this book. By recounting what three intrepid kids learned from the rest of the world, it shows what we can learn about how to fix our schools. Ripley's delightful storytelling has produced insights that are both useful and inspiring." Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and Benjamin Franklin

Review:

"The Smartest Kids in the World is a must read for anyone concerned about the state of American public education. By drawing on experiences, successes, and failures in education systems in the highest-performing countries across the globe, Amanda Ripley lays out a course for what we must do to dramatically improve our nation's schools." Michelle Rhee, Founder and CEO of StudentsFirst

Review:

"Fascinating....Ripley's voice is engaging, and Smartest Kids is impeccably researched and packed with interesting interviews and anecdotes....The book ends on a positive note...while the issues are complex, we certainly get the message that we can improve our educational system for our kids." Washington Independent Review of Books

Review:

"Ripley's stirring investigation debunks many tenets of current education reform." BookPage

About the Author

Amanda Ripley is a literary journalist whose stories on human behavior and public policy have appeared in TIME, The Atlantic, and Slate and helped Time win two National Magazine Awards. To discuss her work, she has appeared on ABC, NBC, CNN, FOX News, and NPR. Ripley’s first book, The Unthinkable, was published in fifteen countries and turned into a PBS documentary.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

The Book Goddess, May 31, 2014 (view all comments by The Book Goddess)
I am always interested in learning more about education and the theories regarding why US students don't seem to perform as well as international students on standard exams, so when I saw a write up on this book, I was super excited to read it. Every one knows that we spend a ridiculous amount on our schools and the schools are always begging for more, even though I see no correlation between my property tax increase and the performance of the individual students. But if you say you don't want to throw more good money after bad, the perception is that you don't care about education. It's quite the opposite, I care quite deeply, which is why I don't want to keep throwing my money away. I grew up in Minnesota, which is well respected for it's public school education. I received such an excellent high school education, that I was bored and actually shocked at how easy college was and how unprepared my peers were. My experience over 10 years ago in college and now in the workplace, mirrors the research in this book. I was required to take intro English as a graduation requirement for my BS degree (even though I took AP writing and AP literature in high school), and there were students in my class who had never been required to write a proper research paper...they didn't even know how. I blew my professors away but I didn't learn anything new. Attending college was supposed to be challenging, yet there were still professors who chased you down to turn in assignments. Since when is that ok...your boss won't do that in the real world. What I got from the book, is that our students aren't invested in their education. Why would they be? If you get a B or C from a teacher who is trying to teach you, your parents will argue until you get an A. We grade on effort, rather than product. That goes hand in hand with the self-esteem movement...US children have the highest self-esteem of kids anywhere in the world. We aren't helping them by lying to them. But that's an argument for another book [book:Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y|6101013] We are constantly provided excuses for these kids, rather than challenging them. I truly believe most kids will reach the bar you set for them. Though not every kid is educationally inclined...we should bring back more vocational education. Teach them how to use critical thinking and math skills in a way that will apply to a trade...because kids aren't even able to do that. My husband used to hire entry-level warehouse workers and they were required to take a written test as part of the interview test. One of the questions asks the applicant to translate 5/8 into a decimal (and they are given a calculator)...1 in 10 would get it right. That's just sad! I have worked in corporate offices where we have employees coming out of school that can't draft a client e-mail without having it proofed. That's unacceptable. So anyone who says that the problem will be fixed with more pay for teachers and more technology in the classrooms...that's ridiculous. I volunteer in a local elementary school in an affluent neighborhood and in my classroom, each kid has an iPad and they have an electronic whiteboard in their classroom. These kids still can't answer my basic questions about math and science. Electronics don't teach kids material. The key to this book, is that there is a consistent presence of rigor and drive and a belief that education is important in the countries that are performing well on these tests. Right now, US kids are told that going to College is important...but just because you go to college, doesn't mean you are a critical thinker. The work environment is changing drastically...learning doesn't end when you get your degree. To stay competitive, you need to be constantly learning and developing, using your critical thinking skills, and be willing to take the initiative to grow and drive your career. Kids who have been told how smart and wonderful they are, aren't willing to do that and don't understand why they should. They have a degree...shouldn't the corner office be handed to them. It's a common attitude being encountered in offices across the US. I don't know what the solution is, but I do think we need a fundamental attitude change about what is important. We need highly trained teachers. There is nothing more irritating than communicating with a teacher via email and seeing grammatical errors. We need to actually train our students to think and not just pass tests. We need them to understand that the key to success is developing the ability to learn and grow...not just to get a piece of paper because you could pay for it. And we need to stop throwing money at schools...that doesn't make it better. I enjoyed this book very much and plan to share it with anyone who will listen. As for the negative reviews I read...I wonder if they were written by teachers?
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
Lea Anna, February 3, 2014 (view all comments by Lea Anna)
A quick and interesting look at education and how students, parents, teachers and the education system all combine to teach children. Ripley focuses on three of the top scoring countries and examines how they work from the inside (following three American exchange students within the countries) out. Seeing the differences in teaching, learning and attitudes compared to America is something to think about. America definitely needs to rethink some things, but it turns out some of the simplest things to correct are parent driven, like reading to your child every night and asking them questions. She also gives a good "guide" to spotting a world-class school which will be helpful to any parent.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
Dawn O, November 5, 2013 (view all comments by Dawn O)
This is a fascinating book about the reasons why the American education is failing our students. Three American exchange students enroll in schools overseas - Korea, Finland and Poland. The results are unsettling. I never knew that it's as difficult to be admitted to a teacher-training college in Finland as it is to get into a medical or law school here. Ripley uncovers other thought-provoking findings, including America's emphasis on sports programs over academics, and students' attitudes toward their own education.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
View all 3 comments

Product Details

ISBN:
9781451654424
Subtitle:
And How They Got That Way
Author:
Ripley, Amanda
Publisher:
Simon and Schuster
Subject:
Education-School Reform & Controversy
Copyright:
Publication Date:
20130813
Binding:
Hardback
Language:
English
Pages:
320
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in

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Related Subjects

Education » General
Education » Gifted and Talented
Education » School Reform and Controversy
History and Social Science » Politics » International Studies

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way New Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$28.00 In Stock
Product details 320 pages Simon and Schuster - English 9781451654424 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Finally! The book on education has been written. Check your assumptions at the door because only hard data earn respect as Ripley cuts through myths and unsupported opinions. Follow the engrossing story of three American students studying in Finland, South Korea, and Poland, all of which outperform America academically. Their perspectives provide perfect launching points for understanding where we've gone wrong — and how we can inject rigor into our own schools. Critical yet hopeful, this was the one I'd been waiting for.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Though the U.S. spends more to educate its students than almost any other country, its teenagers rank 26th in math, below Finland (third), Korea (second), and Poland (19th). Yet in 'a handful of eclectic nations... virtually all kids learning critical thinking skills in math, science, and reading.' Setting out to discover how this happened, veteran journalist Ripley (The Unthinkable) recounts the experiences of three American teens studying abroad for a year in the education superpowers. Fifteen-year-old Kim raises $10,000 so she can go to high school in Finland; Eric, 18, trades a leafy suburb in Minnesota for a 'city stacked on top of a city' in South Korea; and Tom, 17, leaves Gettysburg, Pa., for Poland. In addition to these three teenagers, Ripley interviews educators, students, reform-minded education ministers, and others. In riveting prose, Ripley's cross-cultural research shows how the education superpowers value rigor above all else; the 'unholy alliance' between sports and academics in the U.S.; why math eludes the average American teenager; what parents in the educationally successful countries do; and how the child poverty rate doesn't necessarily affect educational outcomes. This timely and inspiring book offers many insights into how to improve America's mediocre school system. Agent: Esmond Harmsworth, Zachary Shuster Harmsworth." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , "[Ripley] gets well beneath the glossy surfaces of these foreign cultures and manages to make our own culture look newly strange....The question is whether the startling perspective provided by this masterly book can also generate the will to make changes."
"Review" by , "Compelling....What is Poland doing right? And what is America doing wrong? Amanda Ripley, an American journalist, seeks to answer such questions in The Smartest Kids in the World, her fine new book about the schools that are working around the globe....Ms. Ripley packs a startling amount of insight in this slim book."
"Review" by , "[T]he most illuminating reporting I have ever seen on the differences between schools in America and abroad."
"Review" by , "[The Smartest Kids in the World is] a riveting new book....Ripley's policy recommendations are sensible and strong....The American school reform debate has been desperately in need of such no-nonsense advice, which firmly puts matters of intellect back at the center of education where they belong."
"Review" by , "The Smartest Kids in the World should be on the back-to-school reading list of every parent, educator and policymaker interested in understanding why students in other countries outperform U.S. students on international tests."
"Review" by , "Gripping....Ripley's characters are fascinating, her writing style is accessible, and her observations are fresh....If you're interested in how to improve public schools, read Ripley's book today."
"Review" by , "In riveting prose...this timely and inspiring book offers many insights into how to improve America's mediocre school system."
"Review" by , "If you care about education, you must read this book. By recounting what three intrepid kids learned from the rest of the world, it shows what we can learn about how to fix our schools. Ripley's delightful storytelling has produced insights that are both useful and inspiring."
"Review" by , "The Smartest Kids in the World is a must read for anyone concerned about the state of American public education. By drawing on experiences, successes, and failures in education systems in the highest-performing countries across the globe, Amanda Ripley lays out a course for what we must do to dramatically improve our nation's schools."
"Review" by , "Fascinating....Ripley's voice is engaging, and Smartest Kids is impeccably researched and packed with interesting interviews and anecdotes....The book ends on a positive note...while the issues are complex, we certainly get the message that we can improve our educational system for our kids."
"Review" by , "Ripley's stirring investigation debunks many tenets of current education reform."
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