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

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

*A full executive summary of this book will be available at newb

*A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Tuesday, September 10, 2013.

The main argument: In the recent past the K-12 public education system in the United States has been lackluster at best (some might say deplor...
*A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Tuesday, September 10, 2013.

The main argument: In the recent past the K-12 public education system in the United States has been lackluster at best (some might say deplorable). Not that the various levels of government have not put in a great deal of effort (and money) to try and fix the problem; indeed, numerous attempts at education reform have been tried over the past 20 years or so, and the US currently spends more on public education per student than any other nation. Still, all of these good intentions (and boatloads of money) have achieved relatively little in terms of results. When compared with other developed nations, for example, American high school students currently rank 12th in reading, 17th in science, and a paltry 26th in math. These numbers would be concerning even at the best of times, but with the nation currently struggling through a seemingly endless economic slow-down, and with the global economy becoming increasingly competitive (and modern jobs requiring more and more advanced cognitive skills all the time), these numbers are very troubling indeed.

All is not lost, though. Other nations have shown that they are able to achieve far better academic results using far less money, and thus we may deem it high time that we investigate just what the leading nations are doing different that has allowed them to be so successful. It is this very project that journalist Amanda Ripley sets for herself in her new book The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way.

Ripley focuses her attention on the education systems of 3 countries in particular: South Korea, Finland and Poland. South Korea and Finland are chosen due to their being on top of the world when it comes to academic results, while Poland is chosen since it has recently been able to improve academic outcomes greatly despite the fact that the country faces many of the same challenges as the US--including especially a high rate of child poverty.

When it comes to the author's approach in the book, it is very much that of the investigative journalist: Ripley relies heavily on interviews with specific players in the education systems of the various countries at play (including students, teachers, principals, and politicians); and her main sources are 3 American exchange students (Eric, Kim and Tom) who spend a year immersed in the education systems of the respective countries.

The good thing about Ripley's approach is that it gives us an insider's look into the education systems of the various countries discussed. This approach is particularly good at unearthing specific insights with regards to effective educational practices. However, the approach does have its drawbacks compared with one that is more scientific in nature, and broader in scope. Ideally, it would have been nice to see Ripley combine the two approaches in her book. Still, Ripley has done very well with the approach that she has chosen, and there are many important insights here. A full executive summary of the book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Tuesday, September 10; a podcast discussion of the book will be available shortly thereafter.

posted by popscipopulizer on September 4, 2013

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Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

I thought this book had a lot of great take away messages for bo

I thought this book had a lot of great take away messages for both parents and teachers. Ripley reports that parents are most helpful when they read to their children when they are young and ask their children how their days were when they are older. Interesting, but no...
I thought this book had a lot of great take away messages for both parents and teachers. Ripley reports that parents are most helpful when they read to their children when they are young and ask their children how their days were when they are older. Interesting, but not too surprising, children whose parents are very involved in the schools' extracurricular activities tend to perform worse than children whose parents are not involved. Ripley notes that this is only a correlation, so parents might be encouraging their kids to focus more on extracurricular activities more than schoolwork or that parents are getting involved because their kids are doing poorly and want the school to look at their children in a better light. In regards to teachers, Ripley's research indicates that teachers that provide rigor and push their students to do better are doing more for their students than teachers who provide all the answers. As someone who had teachers who gave me the answers and other teachers who made me rewrite a thesis sentence ten million times before I could write the rest of the essay, I can attest that teachers who made me work for my grade had my respect and trust.

Ripley does a good job showcasing what Finland, South Korea, and Poland do right and what these countries need to work on. It was refreshing to see that school systems around the world have their problems. Ripley rightly shows that the United States' educational system has some serious problems and is ranked accordingly. She does give the United States hope; however, when she shows that countries like Poland have only made recent changes that have greatly improved their national rankings.

Ripley focuses the book on three international exchange students' perspectives. Although she does speak with some other people, Ripley appeared to get most of her book from these three high school students. Granted, I think that their opinions are well thought out and interesting; however, I wish that she had interviewed a broader group of people both within the United States and in other countries. When I first started the book, I thought Ripley had only three exchange students' perspectives, so I was a little worried. Then I discovered that she had done a survey including lots of students, so I felt better. Unfortunately, I then looked at the numbers. Ripley sent a survey out to 242 US students who attended school abroad and 1104 international students who attended school in the United States; however, only 37 American students and 165 international students responded. Ripley states that these data are still good; however, I cannot see how that is true without the needed statistical analyses that she does not provide. Throughout the book, she notes that 8 out of 10 students said "fill in the blank." I do not feel confident in these statements. The sample size is much to small. I may be wrong about this; however, the lack of any statistical explanation in the appendix does not lessen my concern. I think I would not have been so bothered by this, if she had cited more of her sources in the text. Because I did not know where statistics were coming from, I did not know if I could believe them. Ripley does have resources in the back of the book, but they are grouped by chapter, not line by line (at least this is how it was done in my galley copy). Some may argue that having lots of references in the text would be distracting, but Mary Roach does this in her books and they are very readable.

posted by silverarrowknits on October 14, 2013

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  • Posted September 4, 2013

    *A full executive summary of this book will be available at newb

    *A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Tuesday, September 10, 2013.

    The main argument: In the recent past the K-12 public education system in the United States has been lackluster at best (some might say deplorable). Not that the various levels of government have not put in a great deal of effort (and money) to try and fix the problem; indeed, numerous attempts at education reform have been tried over the past 20 years or so, and the US currently spends more on public education per student than any other nation. Still, all of these good intentions (and boatloads of money) have achieved relatively little in terms of results. When compared with other developed nations, for example, American high school students currently rank 12th in reading, 17th in science, and a paltry 26th in math. These numbers would be concerning even at the best of times, but with the nation currently struggling through a seemingly endless economic slow-down, and with the global economy becoming increasingly competitive (and modern jobs requiring more and more advanced cognitive skills all the time), these numbers are very troubling indeed.

    All is not lost, though. Other nations have shown that they are able to achieve far better academic results using far less money, and thus we may deem it high time that we investigate just what the leading nations are doing different that has allowed them to be so successful. It is this very project that journalist Amanda Ripley sets for herself in her new book The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way.

    Ripley focuses her attention on the education systems of 3 countries in particular: South Korea, Finland and Poland. South Korea and Finland are chosen due to their being on top of the world when it comes to academic results, while Poland is chosen since it has recently been able to improve academic outcomes greatly despite the fact that the country faces many of the same challenges as the US--including especially a high rate of child poverty.

    When it comes to the author's approach in the book, it is very much that of the investigative journalist: Ripley relies heavily on interviews with specific players in the education systems of the various countries at play (including students, teachers, principals, and politicians); and her main sources are 3 American exchange students (Eric, Kim and Tom) who spend a year immersed in the education systems of the respective countries.

    The good thing about Ripley's approach is that it gives us an insider's look into the education systems of the various countries discussed. This approach is particularly good at unearthing specific insights with regards to effective educational practices. However, the approach does have its drawbacks compared with one that is more scientific in nature, and broader in scope. Ideally, it would have been nice to see Ripley combine the two approaches in her book. Still, Ripley has done very well with the approach that she has chosen, and there are many important insights here. A full executive summary of the book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Tuesday, September 10; a podcast discussion of the book will be available shortly thereafter.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2013

    Absolutely Fascinating

    I am currently a junior at a major university in the teaching program. Reading this book gave me such a great perspective on the education system here in the U.S and around the world. We have a lot to learn from education systems from other countries.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 27, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Catchy title, huh? Do I have your attention? You heard it here f

    Catchy title, huh? Do I have your attention? You heard it here first: This book is going to be controversial. Read it anyway.




    Not only is it going to be controversial, but it’s going to change the way you think about our education system. Here’s the short and skinny: American students are behind academically and there are hundreds of theories about why this is. Is it child poverty? Standardized testing? Teachers? Technology? Sports? Amanda Ripley (who had spent most of her career thinking education was ‘soft’) wanted to find out, so she began research what was happening in some of the best educational systems around the world. Drawing on various studies and interviews, she also followed three American high school students as they ventured to some of the top countries for a year abroad. The results were startling. Note: Most of ranking data in the book comes from the PISA scores – click here for their site.




    A lot of what she says in the book is not new, like:
    - Technology isn’t necessarily better.
    - Increased funding doesn’t fix much.
    - Smaller class sizes aren’t as important as we think.
    - Americans are behind.
    - Child poverty is not the cause of our mediocre performance (for example, Norway has low child poverty and low scores).




    But underneath these seemingly benign observations lie the root of the problem: Rigor. American students aren’t taught rigor. Everyone gets a trophy and, while academics are important, it’s perfectly fine to skate by. Basically, we’re soft. And a few of the contributing factors? According to the book, it’s teachers and parents. Here are her reasons why:




    The Teachers: We live in a country where we produce more than two and a half times the number of teachers we actually need. To become a teacher, you don’t even have to score the national average on the ACT. In fact (according to the book and her research, that is), less than half of American math teachers majored in math (less than a third minored in it). Plus, we perpetuate the culture that math is an innate ability rather than one you can learn. Then let’s factor in the importance of sports – lots of people become teachers so that they can coach, say, high school baseball. They aren’t there to teach, they are there to coach and teaching is a means to that end. It’s no wonder higher standards and performance-based pay is considered a threat, not an investment. There are a whole lot of teachers out there who aren’t even able to make the grade in what they teach. The result? The good teachers get screwed and leave the profession for greener pastures. If we made teaching more of a priority, paid them more, and took the best and brightest, then the whole system would be revamped.




    The Parents: There’s no argument that  parental involvement is important. But does the type of involvement matter? Studies point to yes. In America, we have what Ripley calls the PTA parents. They go to every sports game, bake cookies, help with fundraising, and volunteer in the classrooms. But none of this matters. What’s more effective is reading to your kids at home and discussing social issues with them at the dinner table. For example, reading to your children can help boost their scores, but giving them alphabet toys to play with does not. Be
    ing a cheerleader can be great, but not as a replacement to valuable coaching. A 2009 study by Andreas Schleicher showed that parental involvement in extracurricular activities actually led to worse performance in reading than those who didn’t (and this was after controlling for things like socioeconomic status).




    The Students: Ripley followed three high school students to South Korea, Poland, and Finland, respectively. Each country has their own set of pros and cons, but all three of them are competing at a much higher level than the United States. One of the things that all three students learned was that these foreign countries placed a much higher value on the importance of education. Plus, the students had a lot more autonomy, in part due to their work ethic. And with the exception South Korea, the kids all had normal lives. The difference was that their priorities and discipline.




    What I Think: I loved this book. I am definitely going to be going back and looking into her research to see if it all checks out because I’m a skeptic, but it does make sense. And to be honest, Ripley says a lot of things I have thought. While I’ve had some effective teachers (mostly AP/college), I have had plenty of crappy ones, too. I know there are a lot more good ones who left the profession. I know a few people who have left  teaching and were awesome at their jobs but were rundown by the system. Being underpaid, undervalued, and held accountable for kids’ futures when you don’t even have the respect you deserve is pretty disheartening. We need to stop looking at teachers as requirements and get the brightest ones into the classroom and give them incentive to stay.




    We also do live in a society where mediocrity is okay as long as you try hard. If we raised the standards, our kids would meet them if we instilled in them the idea that they could. Luckily for me, I had these types of parents. They read to me and discussed current events over the dinner table. I didn’t get a pat on the back for getting a C but I wasn’t chastised, either. Whenever I thought I couldn’t do something, they would give me the confidence I needed to try anyway. And you know what? I have big plans for myself that don’t include being mediocre.
     
    A Few Disclaimers: Of course there are kids who don’t fit the norm and a ton of amazing teachers. The problem isn’t that they don’t exist, it’s that they are undervalued. Ripley also takes care to point out unique political climates that led to some of the successes in other countries. She also points out the downsides of their systems because nothing is perfect. But even after all this, it’s clear that American schools are not where they need to be.
    “The real world did not give second and third chances: the real world didn’t give credit for showing up.”




    Before I wrap this up, I want to point out a few things that reinforce what is mentioned in thebook. I want you to stop for a minute, ignore your gut reaction, and really think about it. Then, reevaluate.
    - How many movies are there about the jock coming in and propelling the smart girl into popularity? It’s insulting. I can think of a few off the top of my head – 16 Candles, The Breakfast Club, She’s All That.
    - How many really effective teachers have you had in your lifetime? I can count on one hand, maybe two.
    - Did you see a difference in how athletes were treated versus the ‘nerds’? I certainly did. I didn’t play sports and read for fun.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2013

    This book really makes a reader think about what really is impor

    This book really makes a reader think about what really is important for student success in schools in other places and what might be applied to our own school systems. A very stimulating read, indeed.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 25, 2013

    This should be required reading for every American parent. Some

    This should be required reading for every American parent. Some of the findings may be hard to accept: We tend to hero-worship sports, technology and electronics, and beautiful buildings. These are unrelated to success in mathematics and sciences. Reading aloud to children and talking to them about the world outside their own family, friends, and school  is necessary for their success. They must learn that the world is bigger than their sports field and shopping mall. Give them the freedom to make their own choices, to succeed - or to fail - and learn to work conscientiously to avoid failure and rise above it from an early age and they will succeed if they have good teachers. Gifted, highly skilled teachers are a necessity, not a luxury.  Children can do without electronics and  expensive sports programs, but not without well educated, gifted, enthusiastic teachers. If you are a parent, an aunt or uncle, or a taxpayer - read this book!  Then act upon it!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 14, 2013

    I thought this book had a lot of great take away messages for bo

    I thought this book had a lot of great take away messages for both parents and teachers. Ripley reports that parents are most helpful when they read to their children when they are young and ask their children how their days were when they are older. Interesting, but not too surprising, children whose parents are very involved in the schools' extracurricular activities tend to perform worse than children whose parents are not involved. Ripley notes that this is only a correlation, so parents might be encouraging their kids to focus more on extracurricular activities more than schoolwork or that parents are getting involved because their kids are doing poorly and want the school to look at their children in a better light. In regards to teachers, Ripley's research indicates that teachers that provide rigor and push their students to do better are doing more for their students than teachers who provide all the answers. As someone who had teachers who gave me the answers and other teachers who made me rewrite a thesis sentence ten million times before I could write the rest of the essay, I can attest that teachers who made me work for my grade had my respect and trust.

    Ripley does a good job showcasing what Finland, South Korea, and Poland do right and what these countries need to work on. It was refreshing to see that school systems around the world have their problems. Ripley rightly shows that the United States' educational system has some serious problems and is ranked accordingly. She does give the United States hope; however, when she shows that countries like Poland have only made recent changes that have greatly improved their national rankings.

    Ripley focuses the book on three international exchange students' perspectives. Although she does speak with some other people, Ripley appeared to get most of her book from these three high school students. Granted, I think that their opinions are well thought out and interesting; however, I wish that she had interviewed a broader group of people both within the United States and in other countries. When I first started the book, I thought Ripley had only three exchange students' perspectives, so I was a little worried. Then I discovered that she had done a survey including lots of students, so I felt better. Unfortunately, I then looked at the numbers. Ripley sent a survey out to 242 US students who attended school abroad and 1104 international students who attended school in the United States; however, only 37 American students and 165 international students responded. Ripley states that these data are still good; however, I cannot see how that is true without the needed statistical analyses that she does not provide. Throughout the book, she notes that 8 out of 10 students said "fill in the blank." I do not feel confident in these statements. The sample size is much to small. I may be wrong about this; however, the lack of any statistical explanation in the appendix does not lessen my concern. I think I would not have been so bothered by this, if she had cited more of her sources in the text. Because I did not know where statistics were coming from, I did not know if I could believe them. Ripley does have resources in the back of the book, but they are grouped by chapter, not line by line (at least this is how it was done in my galley copy). Some may argue that having lots of references in the text would be distracting, but Mary Roach does this in her books and they are very readable.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2014

    Good!

    Really enjoyed the read. He supports his arguments with statistics and very interesting anecdotes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2014

    Very interesting & thought-provoking

    Amanda Ripley's research brings together academia & reality. Her conclusions are very interesting & her writing style is entertaining. I recommend the book to parents, educators, & anyone interested in education.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2013

    Highly recommend

    Thought provoking read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2013

    Didn't read...looks boring...blah blah blah.

    Didn't read...looks boring...blah blah blah.

    0 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

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