Monday, November 18, 2013


The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Teachers, Administrators, Parents, Anyone Who Cares About Education: read this!

I really liked this book because I've seen a lot of the research and articles before as an educator. It's fairly common knowledge that the US is struggling with learning, especially when measured against other countries. While the facts were familiar, the insight that Ripley provided into not just our education system but other successful education systems worldwide was revelatory and sometimes unsettling.

Some might take issue with some of the things she says about American education (like when she calls some teachers "middling professionals" !! (but maybe true in some cases)), but while some parts might be a little loose,
some of the things she says are hard to hear because they are true. She does acknowledge that what works in other countries may not work in the US; we have more diversity and a different kind of government--but excuses like these are not going to be enough to stand on.
Ripley presents some lessons learned from other countries as achievable actions for US education:
      1-High expectations for students
      2-Raising the standards of teacher selection & education--but also giving teachers more autonomy
      3-Making tracks of gifted, vocational, remedial education available much later or not at all
      4-Tougher curriculum that has more depth than width
      5-Easing off spending on technology

It's hard for me just to review this book because I want so badly to discuss it's ideas! But I'll just say that Ripley has done some great storytelling and analyzing of the facts and ideas, and come up with something that is hopeful and informative. As a teacher, this sparked reflection on my own teaching practices, making me want to raise expectations and standards for my students and for myself, grading on results and really investing time and effort into an effective curriculum. I've seen the bored students, the students who could do more but don't feel that any more is expected of them, and I agree, things are at a turning point. This book adds something valuable and worthwhile to that discussion.

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