The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way takes us to Finland, South Korea, and Poland, following three American teenagers who go abroad to study for a year. All three countries score considerably higher on the international PISA test than the US, although they use very different approaches (and very different levels of funding, too). Although the author tries hard to show how the US could improve its K-12 system, she has a hard time lifting the book beyond the anecdotes of personal experiences. And when she attempts to discuss, say, the rigorous teacher training used in Finland, it’s hard to see how it could be imported to the US without transforming the way teachers are valued in society as a whole, so it’s a chicken-and-egg problem.
If you are looking for a glimpse at cross-cultural education systems, this would be a good choice — not so much if you are looking for policy recommendations.