TIMES reporter Amanda Ripley was in the habit of sidestepping stories on education—until she saw a graph showing the United States’ educational standing compared to other nations. The United States was consistently average. By contrast, three countries—Finland, Poland, and South Korea—had come out of nowhere, and are now topping the charts. What were they doing that the United States was not? Has the United States failed to understand what does and does not make for a quality education? The Smartest Kids in the World is the story of what these countries teach us about educating effectively. Ripley’s conclusions will surprise some.