The Tyranny of Low Expectations
If the headline read “Surveys Show Students Not Challenged in School” you’d hear most Americans mutter in unison a discouraged “Well, duh!” Would the reaction be different if the crawl on the evening news said “Kids Know They’re Not Learning Anything in School”?
A study released this week sent just that message. The report, from the Center for American Progress, is called Do Schools Challenge Our Students? Sifting through data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, frequently called the “Nation's Report Card,” researchers found:
[M]any students believe their class work is too easy. Twenty-nine percent of eighth-grade math students nationwide, for instance, report that their math work is often or always too easy. In some states like Virginia, nearly a third of middle-school students reported their work was often or always too easy….Elementary school students also revealed that they aren’t being challenged by their math work – 37 percent of fourth-grade students reported that their math work is often or always to easy. Among high school students, 21 percent of 12th graders said their math work was often or always too easy, while 56 percent and 55 percent respectively found their civics and history work often or always too easy.
It’s naïve to expect kids to ask for harder work, and quite probably in our best schools the students shouldering a load of four or five AP courses and a full calendar of extracurricular activities wish they were a little less challenged. But what this report suggests is that the middle of the class is bored and coasting rudderless through schools that are neither challenging them to think nor preparing them for productive work. And, tragically, they know it.