Is School Too Easy?

A report released last week suggests that schools are failing on a wide scale to provide a productive and effective learning environment for their students.  The report was based on an analysis of the background surveys of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Known as the Nation’s Report Card, these assessments are administered every two years by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Many schools are simply not challenging students and large percentages of students report that their school work is “too easy.” For instance, twenty-nine percent of eighth-grade math students nationwide report that their math work is often or always too easy. In some states like Virginia, nearly a third of middle-school students reported their work was often or always too easy.

This finding was consistent across grades and subject matter. 57 percent of eighth-grade history students report that their work is often or always too easy. Elementary school students also revealed that they aren’t being challenged by their math work—37 percent of fourth-grade students reported that their math work is often or always too easy. Among high school students, 21 percent of 12th-graders said their math work was often or always too easy, while 56 percent and 55 percent respectively found their civics and history work often or always too easy.

The problem is not just that the work is too easy.  Students simply aren’t being asked to engage in rigorous learning activities.  Almost a third of eighth-grade students report reading fewer than five pages a day either in school or for homework. That’s below what many experts recommend for students in middle school. Eighth-grade students across the country also report that they rarely write lengthy answers to reading questions on tests: approximately one-third of students write long answers on reading tests twice per year or less.

The issues are similar at the high school-level. Thirty-nine percent of 12th-grade students, for example, say that they hardly ever or only once or twice a month write about what they read in class. Nearly one-third said they write long answers on reading tests two times a year or less.

There are some other troubling conclusions, including that these issues are exacerbated for low-income and minority students and that students are not being prepped for STEM coursework later on (e.g. 72% of eighth graders report not being taught anything about technology or engineering).

Students cannot be expected to thrive in an increasingly competitive, knowledge-based economy with this as their intellectual foundation.  This void of learning obviously puts students at an enormous disadvantage should they choose to attend college and pursue a major such as science or engineering (or one requiring writing and analytical skills for that matter).  Even those who choose not to pursue higher education are still potentially graduating below the requisite intellectual capacity expected of them.  Reforms aimed at the school system cannot just focus on improvements in teachers or facilities but must make clear that the goal is to improve the learning experience itself.

Posted by: Sean Norris

Sources: Center for American Progress, The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

Photo Credit:Math Meeting Board and Lesson” courtesy of flickr user judybaxter

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One Response to Is School Too Easy?

  1. Pingback: Is College Too Easy? « America and the Global Economy

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