On many international education tests the United States scores below average for the world's developed countries; especially in the subjects of science and math. In The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, Amanda Ripley looks at the education systems of the countries that scored highest on the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), these countries include South Korea and Finland. Ripley not only speaks to teachers, school officials, and politicians, but also follows American students studying abroad in Finland, South Korea, and Poland.
What Ripley found to be a fairly straight forward difference between the United States and higher performing countries is the expectations teachers and parents had for students. However, that isn't to say that all of these countries achieved this in the best way possible, South Korea was called a pressure cooker more than once and after school tutors have a legally mandated curfew for closing (and their school days already goes until 5:00pm). Ripley discusses what makes American schools different (such as our emphasis on school sports) and what steps the high performing countries took to get their education systems where they are. I found this to be a fascinating look at education in a global context.