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The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way [Kindle Edition]

Amanda Ripley
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Sold by: Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
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Product Description


"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.'" ---Kirkus

Product Description

How do other countries create “smarter” kids? What is it like to be a child in the world’s new education superpowers? The Smartest Kids in the World “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” (The New York Times Book Review).

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. Inspired 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, trades his 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.

Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2827 KB
  • Print Length: 321 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (Aug. 13 2013)
  • Sold by: Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0061NT61Y
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #20,716 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Amanda Ripley shares what she learned while studying pre-collegiate education in three foreign countries: Finland, South Korea, and Poland. The quality of education in any country reflects - for better or worse - what the adults in each country value most. For example, in Finland, rather than "trying to reverse engineer high-performance teaching culture through a dazzlingly complex performance evaluations and value-added data analysis," as in the United States, education leaders ensure high-quality from the beginning, allowing only top students to enroll in teacher training programs. Unlike in the U.S. the education of children is entrusted only to "the best and the brightest" teachers who demand academic rigor and best effort.

In a country such as South Korea where that is not the case, ambitious parents enroll their children in hagwons (highly intensive, after-school for-profit teaching centers) to ensure that they will pass the country's stringent graduation examination, "the key to a successful prosperous life." In 2011, parents spent $18-Billion on these cram schools. Ripley calls this system "rigor on steroids," a "hamster wheel" that has created as many problems as it has solved. In 2010, one Hagwon teacher - Andrew Kim - earned $4-million and in South Korea is renowned as a "rock star teacher." Most of his teaching is done online. Thousands of students are charged $3.50 an hour. They or their parents select specific teachers -- not hagwons -- with selections based entirely on how well the instructors' students score on the national exam.

As for Poland, its public schools seem to accomplish much more with less than do the other two.
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By Nicholas TOP 1000 REVIEWER
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In Korea, one big test at the end of school decides everything: an extreme meritocracy in school creates what is almost a caste system for adults with your entire future decided by how you did on the exam. In Finland, the stress is lower for students but higher for teachers, with only 8 universities giving degrees in teaching, and all of them as competitive as MIT to get into. Both countries, however, are top performers on the international PISA tests, a method of comparing educational achievement across countries, dramatically outscoring the US and others.

The Smartest Kids in the World takes the PISA test as a way of finding out which countries are doing well, and then tries to understand what has led to their success. It’s a whirlwind tour of the high school experience in Korea, Finland, and Poland, three top achievers, and the reforms that got them that way.

Ripley’s bottom line, though she doesn’t say it quite this way, is that reforming education isn’t magic or even surprising. It means agreeing on common goals for the system, training teachers well, making the subject matter rigorous and not being afraid to fail students if they don’t learn it, and above all keeping expectations for students and teachers high. Not rocket science, but it’s amazing how hard the special interest groups in the US can make it.

Lots of things go into a great educational system, but Ripley makes some profound criticisms of the American model. It’s harder to retain varsity athlete status in the US, for example, than to get into teacher’s college, and the average SAT score of teachers is lower than the national average.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Anecdotal but enlightening nonetheless Jan. 6 2014
The key to this book is to remember that it's primarily anecdotes and story, so it's not conclusive proof of anything. But nonetheless this book has a fascinating tale to tell, one that pretty much everyone will or should have an interest in. How countries educate their children is of course a never-ending source of fascination and concern. This book is as useful as any to help us understand why some countries do so well and others, well, less so. Of course, since this author is an American writing in the United States, this book's concerns are American centred. The book uses the results of the PRISM tests as a springboard to its tale. We visit Finland & South Korea, two top-performing countries who are also democracies (to aid comparison with the USA). We also visit Poland, which has improved its results drastically since taking the first test around 2000. Why is Poland springing ahead of the US?

Ripley comes up with some possible answers, based on anecdote mainly, as mentioned before. Ripley is skilled at telling this story and helping us understand what it could mean, without taking any conclusions too far.

Maybe this book will make you smarter, along with helping us along to educate smarter kids.
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5.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts... Oct. 24 2013
By Reader Writer Runner TOP 50 REVIEWER
According to investigative journalist Amanda Ripley’s research, most American students, even those from the top private and public school districts, cannot analyze, synthesize and form their own opinions about the material they study. But why? "The Smartest Kids in the World" attempts to answer this question in a fascinating and brilliant comparison of the US to the homes of three of the most successful education systems in the world: Finland, Poland and South Korea. Drawing on the expertise of US exchange students, Ripley outlines the major reforms and economic imperatives that brought about educational changes in these countries and discusses the day-to-day ramifications of them.

Impeccably researched and engaging, the book comes alive through Kim, Tom and Eric. Kim finds out that gaining admission to a teacher training program in Finland equates to getting into MIT and revels in the freedom teenagers have to manage their time. Eric astonishingly witnesses Korean students, whose school day routinely runs 12-15 hours, sleeping in class on their own pillows. Tom listens to Polish students argue about philosophy in a coffeehouse and finds that, to them, some degree of failure is normal and acceptable. These insider observations provide amusement and illumination, highlighting the values and practices that these countries have cultivated to help their kids succeed.

Finally, Ripley addresses the roles played by child poverty, multiculturalism, technology, extracurricular activities and parental involvement in successful education. The book ends on a positive note, asserting that any education system can reform as long as policymakers, teachers and students can tolerate feeling uncomfortable in the process.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
very well written-about time we review current teaching methods.
Published 13 months ago by Rosemay Thomasse
5.0 out of 5 stars recommended to all North American teachers
Very interesting insight, recommended to all North American teachers.
Published 13 months ago by Gab
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening
Should be mandatory reading for all those involved in designing curriculum and determining how schools should be operated in Canada. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Teach
3.0 out of 5 stars not bad
It was a little short and anecdotal for my tastes. However it was easy to read and makes some very good arguments and inferences about how cultural attitudes and institutional... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Nicholas T. Hillier
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book, except for the title
This book has been quite interesting and useful in my search for schools. Even though the subjects are American students, it is still relevant for Canadian parents, and educators. Read more
Published 24 months ago by ferhannah
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent lesson on what works in education and what doesn't
Ripley found a unique way of figuring out what to do with American's failing education system: find out what works in other countries through the eyes of American students. Read more
Published on Oct. 26 2013 by Flatlander11
4.0 out of 5 stars What a pity she didn't compare Canada and the US!
This is a most engaging book. Instead of using 'educationspeak' to explain why countries' secondary education systems perform so differently (with the US ranked as mediocre), the... Read more
Published on Sept. 25 2013 by John Daniel
4.0 out of 5 stars A Brief Summary and Review
*A full executive summary of this book is available at newbooksinbrief dot com.

The main argument: In the recent past the K-12 public education system in the United... Read more
Published on Sept. 4 2013 by A. D. Thibeault
5.0 out of 5 stars A brief, but personal look, at education around the world
One of the things that, according to Amanda Ripley, parents around the world all agree with is that their own country has problems with its education system. Read more
Published on Aug. 23 2013 by A. Volk
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