Study Finds U.S. Schools Lag in Learning Attitudes

By Debra Viadero — April 07, 1993 3 min read
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To achieve a “world class’’ education system, the nation must first change the way Americans view schooling, suggests a new international study.

The study, conducted by two researchers from Western Carolina University, looked at education systems and societal attitudes toward education in the United States and nine other industrialized nations. The findings were presented in Washington late last month during the annual meeting of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

The study found that, although the United States compares favorably with other nations in education “inputs,’' it lags behind its counterparts--whose students have outperformed Americans in international comparisons of student achievement--in cultural support for high levels of learning.

“If we were to point our finger in one direction as the cause for American students’ achievement,’' said Richard Haynes, an assistant education professor at Western Carolina and a co-author of the study, “we would have to say it starts in the home and goes into the school as the attitude the child brings.’'

The researchers contend that, while other nations view education as a serious enterprise requiring hard work, Americans view learning as fun.

When Japanese children are sick, for example, their mothers attend school for them and take notes. And, while American kindergartens are seen as socializing experiences, French kindergartners are taught basic academic skills from the start.

U.S. High on ‘Inputs’

Donald A. Chalker, the other co-author of the study, said the research began as an attempt to define “world class’’ schooling.

“The term gets kicked around so much nobody understands what it means,’' said Mr. Chalker, who also heads the department of administration, curriculum, and instruction in the university’s school of education and psychology.

The researchers crafted their own definition by first measuring how other nations fared on 35 educational “inputs.’' Those indicators, many of which were drawn from “effective schools’’ research, ranged from average class sizes to the amount of preparation classroom teachers had.

The other countries in the study, chosen for the strong reputations of their education systems, were Canada, France, Germany, Britain, New Zealand, Taiwan, Israel, Japan, and South Korea. American students also tend to fare poorly in international comparisons of mathematics and science achievement with students from those nations.

The researchers collected their input data from existing studies and from interviews with embassy and consulate officials and with students and teachers from the nations studied. From that data, they came up with averages, which they defined as world-class standards, and compared them with the United States.

On many measures, the researchers found, the United States compared favorably. The nation spends more than average on education--both on a per-student basis and as a percentage of the gross national product. Its teachers have more training--but are less respected--than teachers in most of the other nations.

Classes are smaller than average in the United States, and all of the nations studied provide similar course offerings.

Valuing Education

The biggest differences among the countries, the researchers said, were cultural.

Such differences are reflected in the fact that American students spend less time in school and have less homework, on average, than students in the other nations. The U.S. students also spend more time watching television than students in any of the other nine nations.

“My big conclusion is that ... we have the schools we want to have,’' Mr. Chalker said.

“People in this country do not want to have a longer school year or to limit TV watching,’' he said.
“If we want to have world-class schools we have got to change the thinking about our schools.’'

The researchers said their data also dispel the myth that the greater pressure that other nations put on students to succeed academically leads to higher suicide rates. The suicide rates among children and among 15-to-24-year-olds in the United States, the study shows, are among the highest in the world.

The researchers acknowledged, however, that the study did not account for the greater socioeconomic, academic, and ethnic diversity among U.S. students.

“Because of that diversity,’' Mr. Chalker said, “we may well have to spend more than other nations on education.’'

A version of this article appeared in the April 07, 1993 edition of Education Week as Study Finds U.S. Schools Lag in Learning Attitudes


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