Aug. 13, 2013
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, 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.
In riveting prose, Ripley's cross-cultural research shows how the education superpowers value rigor above all else...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
This book gives me hope that we can create education systems of equity and rigor--if we heed the lessons from top performing countries and focus more on preparing teachers than on punishing them.
— Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers
This is a no-nonsense, no-excuses book about how we can improve outcomes for all kids, from the poorest to wealthiest. It avoids platitudes and ideology, and relies instead on the experiences of three American students who were schooled in three countries – Finland, Korea and Poland – that are succeeding.
— Joel Klein, CEO, Amplify, and former chancellor, NYC Department of Education
Such an important book! Amanda Ripley lights the path to engaging our next generation to meet a different bar. She makes an enormous contribution to the national and global discussion about what must be done to give all our children the education they need to invent the future.
— Wendy Kopp, founder and chair, Teach For America, and CEO, Teach For All
Amanda Ripley observes with rare objectivity and depth. She finds a real and complex world ‘over there’—schools with flaws of their own but also real and tangible lessons about how to do better by our kids. The Smartest Kids in the World gave me more insights, as a parent and as an educator, than just about anything else I’ve read in a while.
— Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion