Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Too Few Overachievers

I ordered this book and will read it as soon as my wife finishes it, as it is no doubt quite relevant to us and our children, but Jay Matthews is exactly right in demolishing the idea that schoolchildren in our country are being harmed by academic stress and overwork.  What a total crock!  The precise opposite is true, as Matthews points out:
Only about 10 percent of American high school students have Ivy League ambitions. For the vast majority, academic stress is pretty rare.

UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute regularly asks about 400,000 college freshmen how much homework they did in high school. About two-thirds say only an hour a night or less. Remember, these are the homework habits of students who went on to college. The one-third of high school graduates who weren't preparing for higher education were likely to have had an even lighter academic load.

And what of that overload of AP courses? Newsweek's annual high school rankings indicate that only 5 percent of U.S. public high schools have students averaging more than one AP test a year. The demands made on our most disadvantaged students in the inner cities, who are almost never mentioned in Robbins's book, are pitifully below even the low standards for our average suburban neighborhoods. Some educators think this lack of academic challenge is one reason why nearly half of college students eventually drop out.

If they are not doing much homework in high school, what are they up to? The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research collects time diaries from American teenagers. These documents make clear our youth are not taking long walks in the woods or reading Proust. Instead, 15- to 17-year-olds on average between 2002 and 2003 devoted about 3 1/2 hours a day to television and other "passive leisure" or playing on the computer. (Their average time spent in non-school reading was exactly seven minutes a day. Studying took 42 minutes a day.)...

Robbins is right to lambaste parents who insist that their children do nothing but AP and tell them they must get into Princeton. But keep in mind that our real national problem is not that we ask most teens to do too much, but too little.


Too Few Overachievers
Academically Stressed Students Aren't the Country's Norm

By Jay Mathews
Monday, August 21, 2006; A15


Be careful when you visit Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda. It is full of unhappy, overworked teenagers. Julie went into a tailspin when her private admissions advisertold her she had no chance of getting into Stanford. Frank's mom would not let him take anything but Advanced Placement courses. Sam agonized over the fact that he liked colleges that were not on the top of the U.S. News & World Report list...

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