The Smartest Kids in the Room

The Smartest Kids in the World (2013) by Amanda Ripley is a very readable book on education that looks at how various education systems around the world compare. Ripley is a journalist who states that she avoided writing about education until recently.

The book looks at the Finnish, Polish, US and Korean education systems and compares this. Ripley provides narratives to help the comparison along with the stories of a number of American exchange students. She also talks about how the PISA tests were created.

Ripley clearly thinks the Finnish education system is miraculous and refers a lot to Finland’s high PISA scores. She does not mention that in other international comparison tests such as the more subject specific TIMSS test Finland does not perform particularly well.  The flaws in the book are well described in reviews by various experts.

The book is short and could have been lengthened and improved with a presentation of more of the data comparing international school systems.

The book is well worth reading however. There are not enough books that compare different systems around the world. Comparing health systems, education systems and tax systems shows that by combining the best of the developed world you can have prosperous, budget balancing societies. Ripley has made a sterling start with this book. Hopefully more, better books looking at how different countries do things will come. If they present more data and retain the readability of The Smartest Kids in the World they will be of great value. 

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