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

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

9 out of 10 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

2 out of 2 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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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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