When it comes to international tests like the PISA exam, the U.S. doesn't have much to crow about. On the most recent assessment the U.S. ranked 23rd in Reading, 24th in Science, and 38th in Math, continuing America's slump in education. What gives?
A recent report from the left-leaning Brookings Institution may shed some light on the answer to that question. In section two of the 2017 Brown Center Report on American Education, researchers take a look at the attitudes and opinions of foreign exchange students experiencing life in American high schools. From their perspective, schooling looks a lot different in the states than it does at home:
''International students think American students devote less time to schoolwork. In 2001, 34.0% said much less, a figure that grew to 44.0% in 2016. When the 20.5% who answered ''˜a little lessâ' are also considered, it means that nearly two-thirds of foreign exchange students (64.5%) believe U.S. high school students spend less time on schoolwork than their peers do back home.''
But U.S. students are marked by more than just a smaller amount of schoolwork. According to international students American high school classes are much easier than those they are used to in their home countries. In fact there has been a 10 percent increase since 2001 in international students who believe that U.S. classes are ''much easier.''
Unfortunately such a negative assessment can't be dismissed as international students talking smack. As the Brookings Institute explains American students from the 2001 survey were quite ready to agree that classes in the U.S. were easier than those they took in other countries.
There are many reasons which could explain why American classes are so much easier than those abroad. But is it possible that the American fixation on self-esteem is a predominant one? Have we been so eager to set our children forward and see them succeed that we have allowed the bar to be lowered? Such a move can fool us while we're only comparing American children but it quickly falls apart when we measure our students to those in other nations.
C.S. Lewis once said that ''we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I'm as good as you has fully had its way.'' Is the fact that other nations have so far surpassed us evidence that we have arrived at this point?
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Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.