The data reported from Eurostat and the American Councils for Internal Education should beg a few questions in the mind of the average American:
- Are Western European children smarter than our American children? (No)
- Do they spend more time studying? (No)
The reality is that European children are exposed to more languages than American children 1. Their extra proficiency in language is strictly due to an expectation that citizens of Western Europe be able to process 2x-3x the number of words than their American counterparts.
European children don’t have three times the number of foreign language homework assignments.
They are not working 2x-3x as hard, and that extra time spent on language study has not shown to come at the expense on other subjects such as math, science or reading2
The expectation on language proficiency for children living in Europe is higher. The expectation for mathematics understanding for children in Asia is higher, and so follows their achievements3. But children don’t know that. Western European children are all subject to the same set of higher expectations. One would not think oneself “put upon” if all one’s peers are subject to the same expectations. They may not see it as harder.
We can push our children to learn more in fewer years.
We’re far from maximizing the efficiency of our public education system, and that’s not a dig at the ability of educational faculty across the country. It’s a dig at the expectations we’ve set for our children. It’s a dig at a law that aims to make No Child Left Behind (ed.gov).
If no child is fails an achievement test, that test’s expectations are too low. Disclaimer: No Child Left Behind is a complex regulation that cannot fairly be boiled down to a single title.
My alma mater taught English 111. It was a course designed to “Study and practice of effective explanatory, expressive, and persuasive writing”5.
That is something that an 8th grade student should be proficient in. Students should not be taught that a college level.
Of course there is always room for improvement, but the basis of education is to lay the foundation for comprehension such that the student can continue to grow on their own. To think that you will stop learning after 8th grade (or ever) is naïve, to think that you need to be taught elementary grammar after high school is an embarrassment.
Should we begin to teach mathematics (and other subjects) at a higher level, earlier in our children’s’ lives, I think the public will be surprised at the elasticity of our children’s minds, and their resilience to rise to the challenge presented to them.
Our children develop academic mastery at an earlier age, should push come to shove. We should design coursework to allow them to prove so.
- Pew Research: Learning a Foreign Language a Must in Europe↵
- Department of Education: Average mathematics literacy, reading literacy, science literacy, and problem-solving scores of 15-year-olds, by sex and country: 2003″↵
- Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study – Mean Performance of Eighth Graders on the Mathematical Scale↵
- Publications from the Longitudinal Study of American Youth↵
- Miami University Course List↵