Academic Performance of American Children
In 1986, Harold Stevenson, Shin-Ying Lee and James Stigler published a study in Science magazine that compared Chinese, Japanese and American children. The study sampled children in
Minneapolis, Taipei, Taiwan and Sendai, Japan. All of the children were chosen from upper-middle class neighborhoods
in their respective cities. Minneapolis was chosen due to its high academic success relative
to the rest of the
The study found:
Classwork and Homework
- Fifth grade American children spend about 20 class hours/week on academic subjects.
Four hours a week are spent on math vs. 8 hours on language arts.
- Fifth grade Japanese and Chinese spend 33 and 40 class hours/week respectively.
- American children spend 178 days in school as compared to 240 for the Chinese and Japanese.
- Homework time for first grade American children was 14 minutes compared to 37 and 77 minutes for
Japanese and Chinese first graders.
- Homework time for fifth grade American children was 46 minutes compared to 57 and 114 minutes for
Japanese and Chinese first graders.
- Weekend homework times for American, Japanese and Chinese children were 9, 34 and 78 minutes.
- By fifth grade, the best average school score for Minneapolis did not beat
the worst Japanese average school score. There was no overlap between the two populations.
- The best American fifth grade school beat only one Chinese school's score.
- The worst American fifth grade class scored slightly better than the best Chinese first
- Fifteen American first graders were among the top 100 first grade children.
- By the fifth grade, there was only 1 American child in the top 100 fifth grade children.
The authors measured perceptual speed,
coding skills, spatial abilities, vocabulary, verbal memory and general information. They found:
- The American children scored well when compared to the Japanese and Chinese children.
- The American
first graders tended towards the top on these tests.
- By fifth grade there were no measurable
Cultural Differences Thomas Edison's comment that his inventions were 5% inspiration and 95%
perspiration has more Japanese and Chinese adherents than American adherents.
- Japanese and Chinese parents tend to believe that children that do well academically
do so because they are diligent.
- American parents tend to believe that children that do well academically do so because they
are bright and diligent.
- Half the Japanese and Chinese parents purchased math workbooks for their children.
- One quarter of American parents purchased math workbooks for their children.
- Chinese children like their homework, American children dislike it and Japanese children
have mixed opinions about homework.
- Young Chinese and Japanese children recognize that education is valued in Japan and Taiwan.
- In a follow up study in 1993, the authors measured stress, anxiety and depression levels
among the students. American students tended to be more stressed, anxious and depressed than their
Japanese and Chinese counterparts.
Stevenson, et al., state that if American achievement in mathematics is to rise to world
standards, parents will have to change their attitudes. They state: Impetus for change often comes from dissatisfaction
with the present state of affairs. Most American mothers interviewed in this study did not appear to be dissatisfied with their children's schools, and seem unlikely,
therefore, to become advocates for reform...American mothers have unrealistically favorable
evaluations of their children and what they are accomplishing in school. Garrison Keilor,
the American humorist, describes the mythical Lake Wobegon children as all above average. The
authors contend that Keilor's joke about American parents is right on target.