Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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.
"[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
"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
"[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
"[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
"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
"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
"In riveting prose...this timely and inspiring book offers many insights into how to improve America's mediocre school system."
Publishers Weekly, starred 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
"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
"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
"Ripley's stirring investigation debunks many tenets of current education reform."
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.