The Smartest Kids In the World and How They Got That Way

Book Review by Luann Rottmann

Smartest Kids

The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley c.2013

All educators, parents, and grandparents should read this book if they want to see children succeed academically in school. The smartest kids in the world are not in America according to this author who embarked on a major study to examine student scores on a new standardized test called PISA (Program for International Student Assessment).   The results of the test and the author’s investigation took her to several countries where she surveyed American exchange students and gathered information about school systems.

So, where do the smartest kids live and study? You may be surprised to find out that they live in Finland, Poland and So.Korea.  The author visits Kim (15) from Oklahoma who travels to Finland; Eric (18) from Minnesota who goes to So. Korea and Tom(17) from Pennsylvania who lives in Poland.  Her book is a fascinating look at education systems around the world and what they are doing to develop smart kids.  Here are a few of the highlights about these successful schools:


  1. There is great emphasis on academics and no or little presence of a sports program.
  2. There is little technology in classrooms.  Students do not rely on calculators.
  3. School buildings are stark.
  4. Teachers are highly esteemed and well paid.
  5. Students re expected to develop critical thinking skills.

Parental efforts do matter and one thing parents can do with children is to read to them at home.  This means sharing stories about faraway places, about volcanoes, caterpillars and little boys who go to bed without their supper. As children get older, parent involvement may evolve to discussions on movies, books, politics, etc. These children and teenagers performed better on reading tests. The bottom line—-make learning important to children.

The author, Amanda Ripley is a journalist who writes for Time Magazine and the Atlantic. And speaks on various topics including global competiveness, education and parenting.  She was educated at Cornell University.   She is also author of the book The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes which is also very good.  I enjoyed it immensely and learned that planning and preparation is key to survival!   For more information on thess book or the author, see her website at

PS.  I am reading my first e-book and will discuss this electronic delivery of books in a future article.