Exchange Students View U.S. Schools as ‘Easier’ Than Those Abroad

By Liana Loewus — March 22, 2017 2 min read
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Foreign exchange students studying in the United States say that classes here are easier than in their home countries, according to a new report from the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings.

These students also tend to say American high schoolers spend less time on school work than students do back home. And it’s their view that American students place more value on sports than their peers at home, and less value on mathematics.

According to these results, not a ton has changed since 15 years ago when the Brown Center last asked international students these questions about their U.S. school experiences.

The study looked at survey responses from about 260 foreign exchange students who were attending U.S. high schools through the AFS Intercultural program. Students hailed from countries including Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, and Thailand.

About 90 percent of respondents in 2016 said that U.S. schools were “a little easier” or “much easier” than their schools at home. That’s up slightly (though to a statistically significant degree) from the 2001 survey, when about 85 percent of exchange students said the same.

And nearly two-thirds of foreign exchange students said that U.S. high school students spend less time doing school work than their peers in their home country. In 2001, about 56 percent of respondents said the same.

The report’s author, Tom Loveless, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brown Center, said he was surprised that the percentage of exchange students saying U.S. schools were easier had gone up a bit.

“For the last 15 years, if there’s one theme to American school reform, it is that we’ve tried to make schools tougher—we’ve tried to make them more challenging, more academically focused,” he said. “My takeaway is that the rest of the world has done the same thing.”

The international students in the sample were also asked: “Compared to students in your home country, how important do your U.S. friends think it is to do well in math?” Nearly half of students responded “much less” or “a little less,” and 39 percent said “about the same.”

The most recent results from the Program for International Student Assessment found that U.S. 15-year-olds perform slightly below the international average in math, and that their performance has declined since 2009. However, results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, another international exam released at about the same time, showed that U.S. 8th graders are generally improving in math.

When asked the same question about sports, international students surveyed overwhelmingly said U.S. students thought it was more important to do well athletically than did students from their home country.

Education Week correspondent Kavitha Cardoza contributed to this report.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.