Why schools flunk at challenging students

Flickr user Editor B

(Moneywatch) Do your children think school is too hard?

If you believe the hype, you probably assume that students in high school and even earlier grades are working late into the night just to keep up with their schoolwork. The popular documentary "Race to Nowhere" even suggests that students are sacrificing their teenage years just to get into good colleges.

Think again. A new report from Washington think-tank Center for American Progress (CAP) suggests that millions of American school children aren't experiencing anything approaching a pressure-cooker academic environment. In fact, a large percentage of them consider school too easy.

CAP drew those conclusions after analyzing three years' worth of questionnaires from fourth-, eighth-, and 12th-graders distributed by the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress. The data, known as the "Nation's Report Card," is one of the richest sources of student data.

Here are some of the report's findings on 12th-grade students:

  • 39 percent say they hardly ever, or only once or twice a month, write about what they read in class
  • Nearly one-third say they write long answers on reading tests two times a year or less
  • 21 percent said their math work was often or always too easy
  • 55 percent thought their history class was often or always too easy
  • 56 percent said their civics class was too easy

And some findings for eighth-graders:

  • 29 percent said their math work is often or always too easy
  • 51 percent said their civics work was often or always too easy
  • One-third write long answers on reading tests less than once or twice a year
  • About a third read less than five pages a day in school or for homework

Clearly, some U.S. states are doing a better job of challenging students than others. For example, many fourth-graders in Louisiana (43 percent), Mississippi (42 percent), and California (42 percent) found their math classes too easy. New England states had the lowest percentage of fourth-graders who felt their math studies weren't sufficiently challenging, including Vermont (28 percent), Maine (29 percent), New Hampshire (30 percent), and Rhode Island (31 percent).

You can check figures for your own state by visiting the interactive map that shares key survey results for all 50 states.

Research shows that students, regardless of their age, learn best when they are engaged. That is less likely to happen when children coast through school.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Editor B