This is a paper that I wrote this semester for my Composition II class. Let me know what you think!
America is a unique country with unique expectations: “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.” No other nation is like America, and America is often esteemed as a safe haven to those in other countries. Andrea Bukvova, a foreign exchange student from the Czech Republic, once told me that “America is the last best place for the world. It's a belief to all of us that if something goes wrong in our country, we can always go to America.” America is a place of hope and freedom, a country where any individual can pursue the “American Dream” and achieve anything that they set their mind to. Yet, are our own adolescents carrying this American mindset and pressing on to be all they can be? A comparison of American high school students to students of other world powers reveals that America is falling behind academically, which may be a result of a lack of emphasis on the importance of graduating from high school.
1. How does America Compare?
America's high school students trail behind students of significant world power countries. Andrea, the foreign exchange student whom I mentioned previously, is not only an excellent example of how foreign students excel academically in comparison to our own, but also a person dear to my heart. Andrea Bukvova (affectionately referred to as “Andy”) lived with my family in Montana during the 2008-09 academic school year. While living with us, Andy attended a Christian private school in our hometown at a junior status. During her year, there were several other foreign exchange students in her class, primarily from Germany. The astounding thing I realized throughout that year is that even though the foreign students were attempting to learn the material in English as their second language, they ranked higher in their classes than nearly all of their American peers. During her year, Andy not only maintained straight A's, but she and the other exchange students placed as the top students in many of their classes, including anatomy and mathematics.
In addition to what I've observed personally, there are several studies that reveal America is falling behind other countries. One such study was done by The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) on a collection of fifteen-year-old students from 65 participating countries, encompassing “between 4,500 and 10,000 students in each country” (“What Pisa Is”, par. 1-3). Surprisingly, America comes in 16th place in this global line-up, falling behind not only many Asian and advanced European countries, but our Canadian neighbors as well, who came in sixth place. (PISA 2009 Results) When comparing the United States, it is evident that America isn't at the same academic level as the countries with whom we are competing, such as China, Japan, and Switzerland (PISA 2009 Results).
2. Why is America falling behind?
A potential reason for America's lax educational standing is a lack of high school students' personal motivation and a lack of emphasis on the importance of education. High school students often skip school, disregard their homework, or focus more on friends than studies. Unfortunately, while skipping school and procrastinating in their homework are extremely common in High School, even more distressing is that students are dropping out of school in hordes. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, the drop-out rate is worse than we would like to believe, surmounting to the statistic that “about seven thousand students drop out every school day” (1). I think that high school students may view high school graduation as unimportant because, instead of attending class for four years to receive their diploma, they can take one test and receive a General Educational Diploma (or GED), which is often upheld as an equivalent to the diploma. With students thinking, “Why waste four years of life going to school if I can get an equivalent in much less time?”, we as a society need to have an answer for them. Even if it may seem feasible for a high school drop-out to achieve the same ultimate outcome as their graduating peers by receiving a GED, there is a distinct difference in income between graduates and high school drop-outs. According to Cecilia Rouse, Professor of Economics at Princeton University, the average high school drop-out earns “over the course of his or her lifetime … about $260,000 less than a high school graduate” (qtd. in Alliance for Education, 2). In addition to the personal consequences, high school students dropping out also affects the entire country. According to the Alliance for Education, “If the United States‘ likely dropouts from the Class of 2006 had graduated, the nation could have saved more than $17 billion in Medicaid ... over the course of those young people‘s lifetimes.” (2) Students should attend school because both the amount of what they can learn and the education process itself is important for not only their own future, but for their family, their community, and their nation.
In 1997, Gordon M. Ambach, then-executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, expressed his concern for America's Education: “...We're not keeping up with the countries that are going to be our major competitors in the future” (qtd in Fiske Par. 9). As a start, we need to be encouraging our adolescents and stress the importance of completing high school for the benefit of themselves and the world around them. In America, students have the unique opportunity to be all that they can be if they set their mind to it, and that begins with devoting themselves to education and receiving their high school diploma.
When Andy returned to the Czech Republic in June of 2009, the school board of her high school would not accept the year spent in America as quality education and held her back from moving on with her class. In her hometown of Olomouc, Czech Republic, Andy was not a significantly outstanding student in comparison her European classmates, yet when placed in an American educational setting she shone brighter than her American peers. If Americans don't take education seriously, others will.
Alliance for Education. High School Dropouts in America. N.p., February 2009. Web. 11 Mar. 2011
Fiske, Edward B. “Insights Into Why U.S. Students Lag Behind in Global Academic 'Horse Race'.” The New York Times 11 Feb. 1997.: Web. 11 Mar. 2011
Programme for International Student Assessment. Comparing countries’ and Economies’ performance. EOCD, 2010. Web. 11 Mar. 2011