In the eyes of foreign exchange students studying in the United States, American high schools, which focus more on sports and less on academics, are not that challenging,
A recent study published by the Brookings Institution last week has concluded that such views remain despite reported efforts in recent years to improve the American education system.
“You get this feeling — the kids from abroad come here, they spend a year, they think that school is easier here,” Brown Center on Education Policy fellow Tom Loveless was quoted as saying. “We think we have made great strides in making our schools more challenging, here is at least one outside group that is, in fact, saying they are not terribly challenging.”
The research involved a survey of 259 teenagers from different nations who are all in the U.S. studying as part of the AFS Intercultural Programs, an international youth exchange organization, according to the Associated Press.
Participants were asked to compare their experience in American schools and high schools in their home country. According to 40% of the participants, American high schools let students spend “much less” time on schoolwork than their home countries, while 21% said they spend “a little less.”
In terms of levels of difficulty, 66% thought that studying in the U.S. is “much easier” while 24% said “a little easier.”
A similar study conducted by Loveless back in 2001 yielded similar results, albeit with more significant differences this time around.
As for the importance of sports in the curriculum, 64% of the respondents expressed that in U.S. schools, it is “much more” important to do well in sports and 23% said “a little more” important.
When it comes to the high schools’ focus on mathematics, 16% said the focus was “much less” and 32% said it was “a little less” in America, while 40% said it was pretty much the same in their home countries.
Priority in studying a second language is also “much less” important in American high schools according to 53% of respondents, and 27% said it was “a little less”.
“So the kids are saying, in terms of my peer groups in my home country, our peer culture rewards success at math more than it does in the US and it does not reward sports so much,” Loveless explained.
International student assessment tests further highlight the findings as American schools have consistently been trailing behind many developed countries.
Observers, however, contest the principles and methodology behind the research, with some pointing out that that foreign exchange students are not accurate representations of students in their home countries. Experts also defended the local schools’ focus on sports.
According to American Institutes for Research senior vice president for research and evaluation Jack Buckley, the methodology Loveless used for his research is far from accurate.
“It’s unlikely that foreign exchange students are a particularly representative sample of their home countries,” Buckley was quoted as saying. He added that the respondents were likely more ambitious and came from wealthier families. While some students get scholarships, costs of a one-year AFS program in the U.S. can amount up to $16,000.
In defense of schools being sports-oriented, Stanford University Graduate School of Education professor Martin Carnoy pointed out as part of the American culture, many parents view that “playing sports makes one a well-rounded person and teaches them important social skills such as teamwork and perseverance.“
“We do put more emphasis on sports, we do put more emphasis on other activities, it’s fun!” Carnoy said. “You are a teenager, have a good time, the rest of life is going to be hard. I don’t know If it’s such a condemnation of our school system. It depends on what you want.”