The XX Factor

Surprise: Kids Say School Is Too Easy  

Challenged or bored?

Photo by Mario Villafuerte/Getty Images

After all we’ve heard about the ridiculous pressures of school on our homework-burdened, backpack-lugging kids, it turns out that school is… easy! According to a new study out today from the Center for American Progress, which picked over three years of data collected by the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, 37 percent of fourth-graders say their math work is “often” or “always” too easy, 57 percent of eighth-graders says the same about their history work, and 39 percent of seniors say they rarely have to write papers on what they read about in class.

You might think that the nation’s teenagers are drowning in schoolwork. Images of sullen students buried in textbooks often grace the covers of popular parenting magazines, while well-heeled suburban teenagers often complain they have to work the hours of a corporate lawyer in order to finish their school projects and homework assignments. But when we recently examined a federal survey of students in elementary and high schools around the country, we found the opposite: Many students are not being challenged in school.

Almost a third of eight-graders say they read less than five pages a day, and are only required to write long answers on reading tests twice a year or less. Agh.

The study found some fairly predictable racial and socio-economic gaps, and while many kids said that school  is easy, plenty of others expressed that they have a tough time understanding what their teachers are saying, which implies that for those students, school isn’t such a breeze. Still, the takeaway should alter our caricature of stressed-out, over-tested, under-pressure kids—or at least alter the way we think about that stress. As an alum of a terrible public school, where the only book I was required to read in FOUR YEARS of high school was The Good Earth and none of us had ever even heard of “AP” classes, I can only hope my kids will think school is very, very hard. The upper middle class fourth-graders whose backpacks are so heavy with assigned reading material that they get grooves in their shoulders from carrying them? Those kids are the lucky ones.