New survey finds exchange students think US high schools easier

Easier classes, less homework and lots of sports this is how American high schools are viewed by students from other countries studying in the United States (US).

Despite a push in recent years to make the US education system more competitive and effective, foreign exchange students continue to view American high school experience as much less stimulating, according to a study published on Tuesday.

“You get this feeling the kids from abroad come here, they spend a year, they think that school is easier here,” said Tom Loveless, a fellow with the Brown Center on Education Policy with the Brookings Institutions. “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.”

While the findings appear to corroborate international student assessment tests, in which American schools trail behind many developed countries, some experts disputed the methodology and the underlying principles of Loveless’ study, saying that foreign exchange students did not represent typical teenagers in their home countries and that the focus on sports wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In the survey conducted last spring, 259 teenagers from various countries compared their experience in American schools to that in their home countries. All the students were in the US as part of the AFS Intercultural Programs, an international youth exchange organisation.

44% of respondents said US students spend “much less” time on schoolwork than at their home countries, while 21% thought they spend “a little less.” Asked, how difficult their classes are in the US, 66% said they are “much easier” and 24% said “a little easier.” The results were similar compared to a similar study Loveless conducted in 2001, but the differences were more pronounced.

Asked about the importance of sports for US students, 64% of respondents said it is “much more” important to do well in sports in the US and 23% said “a little more” important. By contrast, 16% said the focus on math was “much less” in America and 32% said it was “a little less,” while 40% believed it was the same as in their home countries.

Finally, 53% of respondents felt it is “much less” important to US teens to study a second language and 27% said it was “a little less” so.

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