homework

Are High School Students Over/Underworked? A Comparison

Far, far away from you is an island. This island –a bit smaller than New York City — is close to the equator, so it’s always hot and muggy. It’s crowded, too; about 5.5 million people live there. A lot of ethnic groups, customs, and languages mingle, so everyone learns English to get by. Why am I waxing on about an island a minimum 17-hour flight from any point in the U.S.? Well, it’s because that island, aka the Republic of Singapore, produces the best educated high school students in the world.

Yep, Singapore is just one of many countries where the high school students outperform Americans. Now, American high school students are pretty good compared to most of the world, but since we’re the wealthiest country on Earth, it’s a bit embarrassing that we’re lagging behind other countries. What’s the cause? Are American high school students lazy? Are schools underfunded?

Or do students not have enough to do?

In this article, we’ll be investigating how the high school students’ workload has changed in recent decades and how it compares to our Singaporean peers.

Trends in American Education

Long story short, what we know as ‘high school’ didn’t come into being until the USSR launched Sputnik in 1957. America suddenly developed an inferiority complex, and legislators pumped billions into education, while parents bought educational toys for their children. Today everything from foreign language instruction to AP courses can all thank their existence to a beeping metal sphere about twice the size of a basketball.

So how does Sputnik’s legacy continue to affect 21st-century students’ workload? From my experiences as a student and teacher, the smarter a student is, the more work and higher expectations are forced upon them. What this means is that high-achieving students like you can go toe-to-toe with your Singaporean counterparts any day of the week.

Here’s the problem. When it comes to students who aren’t high achievers, they aren’t doing much in school and what they are doing isn’t helping them prepare for life’s challenges let alone a standardized test that researchers use to compare different countries’ students. In fact, when I started teaching at an alternative high school, I was shocked by how little work middle-of-the-road and low-achieving students did to graduate.

So, it makes sense then that when policymakers see how low U.S. high school students rank, their first reaction is “The kids are lazy! Pile on the work!”

That’s not the answer because you certainly don’t need more to do to be successful academically. Let’s see what makes a country’s students succeed.

Why Is Singapore so Successful?

Let’s examine a few key facts about the Singaporean education system:

  • The country spends only 3% of its GDP on education. (It’s almost 8% in the U.S.)
  • There is a central Ministry of Education. (Remember that in the U.S., each state controls its education system.)
  • Parents who don’t ensure that their children attend school are charged with a crime.
  • The government pays for preschool for children starting at age three.

Let me pause to say how important that last bullet is. Investing in preschool can prevent so many educational and behavioral problems later in life. Also, experienced preschool teachers can identify learning disabilities, ensuring that students receive access to appropriate interventions.

The Singaporean government is doing a lot of effective things to help their students succeed. What about the students? Do they work more, less, or about the same?

Let’s examine one statistic. Singaporean students spend more time on homework than Americans, approximately nine hours per week. You probably spend nine hours per week on homework, too. However, Singaporean high school students suffer from anxiety and feelings of overwork at much higher rates than American students.

Hmmm…

Takeaways

I think I see a trend, one that might apply to students in the U.S., Singapore, or any country.

[Amount of Schoolwork] x [Expectations to Succeed] = [Feelings of Overwork]

I’d wager that high achieving American and Singaporean students do the same amount of work, but Singaporean students feel higher stress because compared to the average U.S. student, their government and culture put much more emphasis on academic performance.

To put it another way, overwork can be more perception than actual reality. Did your teacher assign 50 math problems when 10 would be enough to master the content? That’s overwork, plain and simple. But do you have a lot of homework because the specialized honors/AP/IB curriculum moves at a fast pace? That’s necessary. The pressure you or others put on your academic success drains your energy, making something you’re capable of doing feel impossible.

Take it from someone who’s been on both sides of the teacher’s desk: though you may feel like it’s too much, you’re doing what you need to do.

Final Thoughts

You’re not overworked. In fact, many American high school students don’t do enough, and the work they need may not necessarily be what teachers in today’s classrooms would assign. Preschool and vocational training would go a long way to ensuring that every student works the same amount but performs the right work for them.

If it’s something that Singapore – a country that didn’t exist until 1965 – can achieve, it’s something we can achieve, and more importantly, something American students deserve.

10 Tips for Starting the School Year on the Right Foot

Although it’s still blazing hot in most places around the nation, another summer break is coming to an end. For you upcoming freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, that means another year of high school is right around the corner. No matter your grade or course schedule, there are many things you can do to get the year off on the right foot.

In this article, we’ll explore 10 tips to help you make this year a good one. And since I love all my tips equally, please consider the final tip as valuable as the first. 😉

 

1. Join a Club or Sport

Extracurricular activities are a crucial part of your college application portfolio, but they can also be a lot of fun. The key is to find something you enjoy doing. You’ll meet like-minded people and probably make new friends, too.

Upcoming freshman should pay particular attention to this tip for two reasons. The first is that making new friends can significantly lessen the stress associated with transitioning from middle to high school. Second, if the activity you choose isn’t your cup of tea, you can always pick something else next semester or next year.

 

2. Get a Tutor

Was math (or any subject) difficult last year? If so, it’s not going to be any easier this year. If you have the means, enlist a tutor’s help as soon as possible, even before you take your first test.

If tutors are a bit pricey, consider online resources such as Khan Academy to receive some valuable and free help.

 

3. Use a Planner

It’s rare when a college-bound high school student doesn’t have a busy schedule. You may have a lot to do every day, but you don’t need to be disorganized. That’s why you should use a planner.

The key to using a planner is starting one as soon as the school year begins, well before deadlines start piling up. It will be a lifesaver.

 

4. Get to School Early

If you drive to school, consider arriving at least 20 minutes early every day. Despite having to get up earlier (we’ll get to sleep in just a bit), arriving early has many benefits, some of which I can attest to from personal experience.

  • You can receive one-on-one help from a teacher.
    • Always ask in advance. Most teachers are preparing for class up until the last minute.
  • You don’t feel rushed.
  • You get another opportunity to socialize with friends.
  • You have a quiet environment to finish homework or other projects.
  • If all else fails, you can take a nap in your first-period classroom. 🙂

 

5. Get to Sleep Early

I’ll cut to the chase: you high schoolers don’t get enough sleep, and despite all the science, it’s darn near impossible for a teenager to get up early and feel refreshed. How do we fix this? Here’s some no-nonsense advice.

It’s the end of the day, and you’ve just finished up with your homework/chores/whatever. To get to sleep as early as possible…don’t try to fall asleep right away. Take 30 minutes to do something away from a screen. Then, and only then, get into bed. Your mind will be relaxed and ready to sleep. Of course, the sooner you do this every night, the better you’ll feel the next day.

 

6. Take Stock of Your Interests

When you start a new school year, it pays to examine how your interests have changed over the summer. Maybe you found a new passion or realized that an old one no longer interests you. Self-reflection gives you the power to adjust your plans for the future. And if you ‘check in’ with yourself often, adjusting your plans won’t feel like big changes. It’ll be like a natural evolution. In the end, you’ll understand yourself well enough to curate an excellent list of potential colleges.

 

7. Set One (Reasonable) Goal for the Year

Around New Year’s, adults make resolutions: lose weight, get a new job, etc. However, most adults don’t succeed and go back to their old habits or mindsets. If adults can’t accomplish their goals, why should you try to do the same at the beginning of a new school year?

To set a goal and see it through, you have to choose a reasonable goal. Let’s see what sets apart unreasonable and reasonable goals.

Unreasonable Goal

Reasonable Goal

Make straight As all year.Make As and Bs.
Become the captain of the football team.Get on the football team.
Earn $30,000 in college scholarships this year.Earn $15,000 in college scholarships this semester.

To put it another way, you have to give yourself some wiggle room. The more difficult the goal, the easier you are to become discouraged and give up. Let’s look at the final example about scholarships. You may need $30,000 in scholarships to attend college, but if you frame it as a ‘reasonable goal,’ you’ve turned a massive task into a manageable chunk. Also, you may earn more than $15,000 – a morale boost. If you earn less than $15,000, you still have the following semester to make up the difference by sending out more scholarship applications.

 

8. When Doing Homework, Go from Easy to Hard

You just got home. It’s probably late, or it just feels that way after a long, stressful day. The last thing you want to do is homework. But no matter how much you want to ignore it, it’s not going to disappear.

Here’s what you do. Of all the tasks you have to complete, start with whatever’s easiest. By completing it, you will feel motivated to move onto the next hardest thing.

It’s as simple as that.

 

9. Take a Study Hall (If You Need It)

Since we’re on the topic of homework, I want to discuss study halls briefly. Simply put, they can be a lifesaver if you have a course schedule full of AP/IB/honors courses. Writing from experience, that extra 55 minutes to complete homework during the school day can work wonders for your grades, stress level, and general outlook on life.

 

10. Have Some Fun

I was initially going to title this section ‘Plan to Have Some Fun,’ but I realized that would make me sound like more of a square than I am. And as a square, I must reiterate that you should avoid all ‘fun’ that could result in short or long-term repercussions, many of which involve standing in front of a stern-faced adult wearing a black robe.

That concludes my duties as a square. Let’s talk about fun.

Let’s say you’re who l was in high school – schedule full of honors/AP/IB courses, 1-2 extracurricular activities, and lots of other stuff stealing your time. If this describes you, I bet it’s easy to feel that there’s no time for fun ever. Speaking from my experience on both sides of the teacher’s desk, it’s a mindset that’s easy to fall into.

So how do you have fun as a busy, sleep-deprived, stressed-out high school student? You make time for it.

It’s simple advice, but even for adults, very difficult to follow. No matter how much work you have to do or how guilty you might feel about taking time off, you’re worth 30 minutes to one hour a day to do whatever you want to do, either by yourself or with friends/family. The teenagers who have too much ‘fun’ are those who can’t find a balance between work and play. And to be honest, it’s not entirely their fault. Teenage brains aren’t 100% developed.

To sum up, practice taking time for yourself. That’s fun.

 

Final Thoughts

Top 10 lists are a dime a dozen, so it’s understandably difficult to know if any article’s advice is right for you. That being said, try a few of my tips that you think would help you this year. Ultimately, as long as you do your best, you should have the best year possible.

See you in September!

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