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

Choice Reviews 2014 May
Few books are this impressive and depressing, and few authors have assessed and evaluated US education as thoroughly as Ripley. After several trips to Europe and a number of schools in the US, the author reports on the many ways that US schools fall below (often far below) international standards of public education. Following three American public school students studying in Europe and their teachers, the author points out the many ways that their general performance is clearly, categorically deficient (although primarily in mathematics). How these American students adjusted to local standards clearly calls into question the educational backgrounds they arrived with. The hows and whys of their deficiencies are discussed throughout the book. They clearly concern the author and should concern every US reader of the book. Ripley does not specifically address the deficient conditions of US schools, but she does address many of the reasons these conditions exist. Everyone associated with US education, from school board members and teachers to parents and interested members of the public, should read this book, and everyone concerned about US education should address and alter this reality. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers, graduate students, and above. General Readers; Graduate Students; Researchers/Faculty; Professionals/Practitioners. G. A. Clark emeritus, Indiana University Copyright 2014 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2013 June #2
Chronicle of a journalist's global travels to visit schools, interviewing educators and talking with students and their families in order to answer the question, "Why were some kids learning so much--and others so very little?" Ripley (The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes--and Why, 2008) examines why there is a disparity in performance on tests of mathematical and scientific competence between American students and their global counterparts, even when factors such as poverty and discrimination are taken into account. She explains that America's poor showing translates into lost jobs for Americans, who cannot compete with foreign labor even in semiskilled jobs. Many of the arguments about American education fail to address the real issues behind the competitive failure of American schools compared to Finnish and South Korean schools (where students are in the top tier on international tests), as well as Poland, where the rate of improvement is remarkable. Ripley builds her narrative around the experience of three American teenagers, each of whom spent a year abroad as exchange students--in Finland, South Korea and Poland, respectively. The author describes a political consensus in each of the three countries that nearly guarantees the creation and maintenance of a highly educated workforce, from top to bottom. The importance of education is a reflection of national consensus on the respect for teachers. A large portion of their education budgets go to teachers' salaries, and the instructors are chosen from the top third of their graduating classes and must meet high professional standards on a par with engineers. Per capita, America spends more money on education, but the money is allocated differently--e.g., to sports teams and programs that provide students with laptops, iPads and interactive whiteboards. A compelling, instructive account regarding education in America, where the arguments have become "so nasty, provincial, and redundant that they no longer lead anywhere worth going." Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 July #3

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. (Aug.)

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