Sunday Book Review: The Smartest Kids in The World: And How They Got That Way

For those of you who read my blog regularly, you know I am over-the-top passionate about education, and have openly attacked the deplorable US public education system.  Hoping to find the “cure” to our ailing education standards, I have reached out to educators both in the US and around the world. While in most cases the consensus is the very wide cracks in the system, the lack of support for teachers, dwindling financial support and encouragement from parents in the home, the answers to actually fixing the issues just weren’t there.  Until now. 


And How They Got That Way
By Amanda Ripley
Illustrated. 306 pp. 
Simon & Schuster.

Amanda Ripley’s new book, The Smartest Kids in The World: And How They Got That Way, is an education game changer. It’s filled with hard facts, staggering statistics, and a sobering view into the classrooms around the world making the grades, and why the US is not. 

To help provide this clear picture Amanda Ripley follows three high school students, with vastly different backgrounds, as they leave the comfort of their US homes to study abroad. Kim, fifteen, from Oklahoma, sells beef jerky door-to-door and Rice Krispy treats outside of the local supermarket to raise the $10,000 she needs to study in Finland; Eric, eighteen, from Minnesota, leaves his top ranking high school to test his skills against the notorious South Korean high schools: and Tom, seventeen, from Pennsylvania, trades his historic battleground village, for a historic battleground Polish village.  The lessons and experiences these three students encounter forever change their lives and approach to education.

While following these students, Ripley learns first hand why Finland has bragging rights to being #1 in Science, #2 in Reading and #3 in Math out of 65 countries around the world. FYI: The US is ranked #12 in Reading, #17 in Science and #26 in Math!  (Source: PISA-Program for International Student Assessment) I will interject here that this has nothing to do with social or economic demographics.  In fact, the richest kids in the US still ranked well below the rich kids around the world, and the US kids are MUCH wealthier! This book more than proves the deplorable US ranks are an educational system issue as a whole, there is no one area to lay blame.

In following these three kids, and even a fourth student, Jenny, who travels from South Korea to the US to study and then back again, Ripley allows us to see what is clearly working to make these schools the best in the world... Watch This!

Without completely going off into left field with my own ideas and opinions on what the issues are, and what I personally learned from this book, I will say, Amanda Ripley opens up so many discussion topics surrounding the wide gap in the US standards for learning vs the World, and what parents are, and are not, doing at home to help close the gap. 

Things like:

What are we doing on the home front to ensure our child is not slipping through those huge cracks, or what are we doing to question and improve our town’s school district and standards.  Or even, what about sending our child off to study abroad, what impact will it have on them. 

Another important lesson I learned in this book came from the immensely strict and unforgiving standards of South Korea-They have very very high expectations for what kids can do. While I think they take it all a little too far, I do agree that we should have just as high of a level of faith in our own child's abilities. We need to nurture and stay involved in our child's education to create that same level of achievement, regardless of the school system. 

The Smartest Kids in The World: And How They Got That Way, is one of those books I will keep on the shelf and read year after year. Even though the statistics in this book will certainly change (hopefully for the better in the US), the talking points and information from a parenting standpoint are invaluable and even timeless. 

If you have a book club, add this book to the list. If you are an educator, you have to read this book.  Most of all, if you are a parent, go get this book. I promise it will change the way you approach your child’s education from both the classroom and home front.

To read more on my opinion of the US education systems, click here.

April is an award-winning writer and blogger. Her work has been published in over ten countries and four languages. From books to newspapers, to print/online magazines and everything in between, you can find her work. For more on April, Visit