« WUMB Radio Interview With Bob Compton | Main | What's Hot on Communist Chinese TV these days?? »

June 04, 2008



Great blog post and comments!




i think you may have a bias against your own kind just because you were born here and did not arrive fresh off the boat... as a result some of your comments sound plain silly...

for example, you may think the fresh indians from india are not into sports like football, baseball or ice hockey etc but most of them may be into cricket or field hockey... similarly, they may be into bollywood, dramatics, debating etc and not necessarily into pubbing, clubbing and partying...

organic chemistry

I must say that every single Indian student that I have ever taught in organic chemistry already knew most of the college material from high school...it was really remarkable

essay writing

It's always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! I'm sure you had fun writing this article. Excellent entry! I'm been looking for topics as interesting as this. Looking forward to your next post.


[Apologies in advance for the long post]

I came to US from India about a decade ago and was a graduate from one of the top Indian institutes. I have to admit that one of my biggest worry is that despite having a privileged life, I might be failing my children by educating them in US - something my parents succeeded in providing me despite far modest means.

I will try to present a balanced view. First, I'd like to dispel the notion that all students in India do better than all students in US. If you take an average Indian student I would be surprised if he/she is any superior than US counterpart - would probably be worse off. Mostly when people are comparing Indian students to American students they are comparing the upper echelon of Indian students with all American students. By the way, most Indians (sure, not all) in US, would qualify as upper echelon of Indian students - there were typically the top 10% in their class. Because of higher population this segment itself might look as big as all US students combined.

That said, the standard "all" Indian students are held to is definitely higher (if you just objectively compare curriculum of public schools in US and India), and not all succeed. Pressure is on the students and parents and not on teachers to make students succeed. Someone mentioned that A in India is only 70%+ but that 70% itself is hard to achieve - and would be a higher standard than a 90 or 95+% in US.

I also agree that "creativity" and "innovation" component isn't (or at least wasn't) that big in Indian education but it is improving. I would agree though that US students get a better rounded education and have higher creativity component.

That said Indian students don't not play tennis or piano because they are pigeon-holed - it is more because there are few tennis courts (there were probably a total of 2 courts in my city) and a living room that could accommodate a piano is typically the only room in the house. I studied in India and was regularly part of debate/essay-writing/dramatics competitions and so on. We also had several sports - cricket, volley-ball, hockey etc. as a part of the school.

I used to feel the same that Indians can only be good at working for someone else - look at the swaths of IT force in US and India, that despite high math and science standards we have few if any Indian global companies I could be proud of. Sorry, body-shopping companies like Infosys/TCS/Wipro don't qualify - name one product they have developed which can be called innovative. On the other hand, several Indians in US are entrepreneurs - I read somewhere that during dot-com boom a huge % of silicon valley entrepreneurs were Indians - I even know quite a few of them. So while the innovation component in Indian education is not as high as US it is not non-existent - and shouldn't be the only thing US education relies on.

Someone mentioned poor communications skills of Indian students - that they can't be articulate. Please realize that English is not their first language and that may be the only factor. I know several smart Indian students who are articulate, have a great sense of humor and have all the verbal skills -just not in English.

So why can't we have best of both worlds in US? Why not have demanding education standards with creativity and all the extra-curricular activities. How come parents feel that they would be putting inordinate pressure on kids by demanding them to excel in their education when they feel it is not inordinate pressure for them to earn money for their own college education and be completely on their own at 18 or 21 – the latter, by the way, I respect and don’t mean as criticism.

Finally, as human beings, we excel when we are pushed and challenged - it is true in any aspect of like not just education. If we don't push our kids to learn, we are making them not achieve their own natural potential and thus are failing them. I don't mean that we have to push everyone to be a scientist or an engineer. I just mean that they excel at whatever they choose to do or have potential to do - they become the best musicians if they are musicians, they become the best artists if they are artists.

One thing I would like to understand, if someone can answer:

The standard of school education in US is mediocre at best - I experienced it first hand - my neighbor's daughter was put two grades lower than in US when she moved to India - but its colleges and universities are the best in the world. So when students transition from high school to college is it too big of a jump? How do students cope-up with that?


Stumble on this link and give my two cents opinion and observation.

I have two kids, they are in private school now and smart too, but have no drive at their school work. Life is too easy for them, only competition is from other player on ps3, xbox 360,.. When I tell them that I had to work 10-12 hour a day washing the dishes and took full university and graduate course to get BS, MS degree, they just laugh. They don’t know the hardship and thus have no desire and urgency to work hard and compete.
I came from China 28 years ago with nothing, didn’t even know there are 26 letters in English alphabet, but I had drive and desire to succeed and appreciated the chance to come to this land of freedom and opportunity.

I asked my little one what he’s going to do if not study hard and learn some skills, his answer was he’s going to be the boss and hire smart people (from other country ?) to work for him. Oh my God, when do schools starts teach our kids to be self sufficient?! How can we keep jobs in America?!

I’m saying here is that our school resources are soooo much better, but many of our kids don’t appreciate the opportunity they have. If kids are not motivated, no school curriculum will make them do better.

Teaching AP Chemistry

I would say that the quality of teaching is probably the important factor in predicting student success.TFA has been popular of two things one its very elite,and it's speaking to a generation of kids who have been competing since kindergarten.

Bob Compton Comments:

I have no idea what this person is saying. However, if its author implies that TFA is recruiting the highest intellectual talent out of US colleges and that top intellect, high motivation and intense dedication make the difference in the classroom vis-a-vis student achievement, I heartily agree. Otherwise, I disagree.

AP Chemistry

As per my knowledge I think Indians are good in maths when compared to US as Indian students are taught multiplication of tables and higher level maths in their high school level however when it comes to US student he depends upon calculator into to evaluate a simple calculation like 6 times of 7.As we says every coin has its other side when it comes to US standard of education students are put into environment where they can express their views.I think flexibility is greatest strength of American education system.


This is directed at Denisia's comment. Denesia, I think the joke is on you. Reading your comment made me revisit the thought that crossed my mind every time I watched the erstwhile GOP vice-presidential candidate give a speech on TV, "Please travel, open your mind and for goodness sake, get informed about the world."

I received my education in science and math in India and received my Graduate degree in the US. Let me reiterate, the commitment, depth and intensity of the science curriculum is unmatched by the high school education available in the US. By the way, most of my colleagues, who, are involved, literally, in the most cutting edge scientific research, have origins in a country different than the US. So, of course, the US companies are outsourcing the high-tech jobs because competitive and, yes, cheaper labor is available elsewhere.

Most Chinese and Indian immigrants recognize the importance of the science and math education and push their kids to excel in these subjects. However, unfortunately, I am not convinced that even these children are as competitive as their Indian and Chinese counterparts with similar opportunities.

I cannot stress enough that we have to recognize the urgency and change our philosophical attitude towards educating our kids here in America so they are competitive with the rest of the world. The scariest aspect in all of this is that most of the country does not even begin to recognize how ill-equipped our children are going to be as they compete in a global job market.

By the way, Logan, from July, these "robots" are doing more than OK in the American Corporate world. They don't need you to feel "bad" for them as you write your novel.

Denesia- graduate career search

I personally think that it is a myth perpetuated by companies seeking cheap labor that US is behind countries like India in technological advances. It is just another way they try to justify outsourcing jobs to these countries. If you claim that you are sending your jobs overseas because there are more qualified workers in India or China, then it sound better than saying you are outsourcing those jobs because of cheap labor and bigger profits for you. As a highly qualified job seeker, starting your graduate careers with this stupid myth that you don't know as much as the Indian or Chinese guy because you were educated in the US is a joke.


I am deeply concerned about the decline of our country by way of education standards. What shall I say to our elementary curriculum supervisors who feel this education debate is not an apples to apples comparison as we educate all children and their scores only reflect a selected population of children? They also commented that our high performing school districts are as competitive as their school system. Others have insinuated there is some kind of political motivation behind the math and science debate and projects such as this.


Their high performing schools and our high performing schools are comparable, it is just that they have a lot more high performing students.

The US has 54 million K-12 students - China has 194 million and India has 212 million. That does not count the several hundred million in both countries that wish they could go to school.

The quality of their best and our best may be similar, but their quantity exceeds ours by 8X.

Carmel Parent

I applaud Bob Compton for making this important debate possible.

I am from India and moved to Carmel,IN 15 yrs ago. My older son is a Junior in Carmel High school which is featured in the documentary.

I continue to live in US because of the excellent educational system for my kids, though professionally India offers better opportunities for me at this time. In India, students are forced to choose one of Math/Physics, Biology or non-Science tracks after 10th grade. My son does AP Calculus, AP Biology, AP Economics, US History, Physics C etc. He is also part of the team which made to National Economics challenge held in NYC. He also does debate, volunteering and plays Tennis. I am glad that he is not boxed into choosing one track and miss out on other subjects.

This great country offers choices and parents and kids make use of them based on their interests and where the opportunities exist. It is difficult to convince kids to pursue careers in Engineering if the opportunities are in Sports and Entertainment.

If there is a need to raise educational standards, it is really at Elementary school level where the standards are low compared to other countries like India. It is unfair to expect kids to take advantage of High school without giving them the needed foundation. One has to catch them young and it is rather late at High school level.

Mrs. Jones

I am excited about watching the documentary that I heard about on a news program. I perused the site, and stumbled across the testing area.

I am a social studies teacher in Texas, and personally, the 15 questions that were included in the history test were mostly minor facts and dates type questions. You asked WHEN Vietnam was united instead of the factors related to the reunification.

If this is a reflection of what students in India and China know, then I don't know how impressed I am. But I am still intrigued by the idea of the what this project is highlighting.

Bob Compton Comments:

I think the math, chemistry, physics and biology exams are more representative than the History exam. Try taking those.


It has been quiet some time since I graduated from high school, now I have 2 little girls going to primary school.

Iam an Indian have graduate level of schooling in India before we started living in US for 14 years. Once my older daughter was ready to hit the primary schooling we decided to relocate back to our country. One of the main factors in this decision is education.

I won't say Indian education system is all hunky dory and best , it has its share of challenges of the same concern as the American counterparts.
Having lived in both parts of the world and understanding enough of both the systems I can say couple of things.

1) Primary education system is excellent in USA those values are now being offered in new urban schools in India.

2) Middle and high school is definetly better here. Better as in what one may ask. I would say the cirriculum is so much that the child doesn't get chance to distract rather the parents.
I don't think any school plays a pivotal role in ensuring that the child sticks to books its done more by parents and community.

3) One thing that is going for Indian kids is the extreme amount of competition they face at every stage. Imagine this .... once you step out if high school to get into the best of any college in any stream, you face a competition in the ratio of 1:10 ie for every vacancy or seat you have at minimum of 10 folks competing for excatly the same thing. This continues to the rest of next 6 years even into job markets.
I think this probably is the driving force for most Indians. The philosophy is simple if u study hard and put in the grind these 4 (high school years) the world will be on your plate, and thats the key to successful life.

Every parent right from lower income households to the elites live by this mantra.

4) Does that mean all Indians excel. NO definetly not. Not all excell maybe not all have the right affordability for higher education. But the awareness is there, my maid who probably works cleaning dishes in 10 households earns a monthly income of 100$ and has 6 mouths to feed yet she tightens her belt to ensure that they all go to school for basic education. "Public School system is not necessarily good in India, mostly its all private schools and that means shelling out money" and yet they do that.

5) What appalls me in US is despite best of lifestlyes and decently better affordability and even the free and much better public school system than here, yet the children have this lax attitude and the "its okay not know all" attitude, especially among high school attitude.

One thing I noticed and is purely my perception is that once a child gets into college there is this burden of schooling and also earning to repay debt. I firmly believe that once you taste money its difficult to get back to studies, couple of my cousins who lived that lifestyle in US (born and brought up there) have learnt it the hard way.
The entire high school was free why can't the parents take some extra interest and bend their backs to provide that support, why is it the child's burden? what motivation will be left among average student?

Is it really necessary that they have to leave the nest and learn all those life skills while being a student. Indian children finish their undergrad before leaving home, at graduate level many parents leave the responsibility of learning the lifeskills.
It may sound like cocooned lifestyle for the Indian kids but has it done any good for the American counterparts?

6) While living in US when I questioned other parents with children of similar age group to my kids they constantly wowed at the fact that my 4 year old could recongnize all her letters and even begun to write some. They called her intelligent but I don;t necesaarily call that being intelligent. She was ready to take it , I see many 3-4 year children ready for that, then how come American kids don't do the same at that age? Does that mean their genetic wiring is different definetly NO their parents did not bother. PERIOD.

Most American kids parents in my observation kind of let loose the child once they reach the high school. I have seen many parents and children getting bothered about the fact that they don't have a high school date to go for the dance!!! is it really that important?

Its time that the parents and community woke up to the real requirements in schooling and prepare their child. Don't give them a choice for getting educated or not, there should be no choice.

Apologize for such lengthy stuff and any incorrect English.

Sam Andre

I believe that comparing high schools in China and India to one in the U.S. is preposterous. The social and working environments in the U.S. are vastly different than that of the other two nations. Americans focus more upon the social part of education, gaining self-confidence and a free-thinking conscience. Indian and Chinese students on the other hand focus more upon the orderly and dry world of mathematics. To succeed in the U.S., students do not have perfect test scores or study for hours in order to achieve their goals. The U.S. came to the forefront of the world by being innovative and confident, two principles that we still teach today.

Bob Compton's Comments:

Americans may be innovative and confident but that is not paying off in the 21st century global economy. The US Trade DEFICIT with China is $1.5 trillion and with India $100 Billion.

In high-tech products - electronics, computers, aerospace and biotechnology - America's trade DEFICIT with Asia is $78 Billion.

So, it is not clear that our "confidence" translates into positive economic outcomes for Americans compared to that dry math and scince stuff they teach in China and India.

Christopher Sills

I think that ,yes, Chinese and Indians excel in QUANTITY but not QUALITY. Like Logan said up above being able to understand it is one thing being able to explain it to someone else is another thing altogether which is where, I think Americans excel.

Bob Compton's Comments:

And being able to economically benefit from it is a third thing. The US has a $1,5 Trillion trade DEFICIT with China. China is th second largest owner of US Treasury securities - $150 billion. And they have $2 trillion in foreign reserves. China is our supplier of goods, our bnker and a financial juggernaut - buying vast swathes of Africa for access to timber, mineral and oil. Sometimes quantity can be overwhelming.


I am currently an 11th-grade honor student in Indiana, coincidentally. While I obviously can't speak for the other countries, I can assure you that my friends and I are not having an easy go of it these next two years. I'm in three AP classes, Honors English 11 (AP for us is next year) and two upper level language classes, Spanish III and German II. I've already taken two computer classes, health and band during my high school career. As you might be able to guess, I have plenty of homework. I don't expect to be able to simply coast these next two years. After my senior year, I will have taken all but one of the AP classes my school offers, as Biology conflicts with Chemistry. I'll even be taking mathematics at the local college, Wabash. Don't let it be said that everyone, even highly motivated honors students, has an easy schedule, doesn't exert their full potential, etc. AP Chemistry and AP US History are notoriously difficult; we have an assignment to do every night, probably on top of an English essay and while preparing for a Calculus test. I'm lucky if I can attend most Spell Bowl and Academic Superbowl practices and get to FCA.

Indians and Chinese may have it even tougher than we do, but it's not exactly all fun and games here, either.

Bob Compton's Comments:

I commend you on your high goals and hard work. For fun you might want to that the Third World Challenge - it is the proficiency test Indian students take to advance to 11th grade. A score of 40% correct is considered proficient - but you must be proficient on all the test.

The test is at http://www.2mminutes.com/third-world-challenge.html.

Five thousand Americans have taken the 10th grade test - zero have passed. Let us know how you do.


I'm fascinated by this discussion...I just listened to a local public radio program featuring this documentary. I personally grew up in the Southwest and went to a public high school before I put myself through college, starting at a community college and then transferring to a public university. Neither of my parents have a college education and are blue collar workers.

From my own experience, I believe that having authority figures (parents, teachers, etc) and/or a high quality educational system when young is one of the greatest advantages that an American or anyone else can have. My high school did not provide a quality education; I did not take physics or chemistry in high school and did not read much literature (I actually read Romeo & Juliet twice, once in 9th grade and once in 11th grade). I didn't even have an overview or introduction to poetry until I was in college.

I have managed to achieve a relative degree of success despite a lack of quality education, but I can't help but be aware of how much more 'well-rounded' I would be now if I had been challenged and held to higher (or any) standards when I was younger. My parents could not provide the structure and discipline that is needed for establishing education and knowledge as a priority. My knowledge and intellegence come more from my life experiences and I am very conscious of my lack of knowledge in world history, politics, literature, and science.

So when we talk about the 'American Dream' and operate under a belief that anyone can achieve success and see all of their dreams come to fruition if they just try hard enough...are we taking into consideration that to go against the grain, to be a 'fish out of water', is exquisitely difficult and requires achieving more and working hard with little to no support, and most importantly, means that you are starting at a deficit?

Kudos to my fellow black sheep that decide against the path of least resistance and are pursuing the 'American Dream', despite our lack of training and education. It would be great, now that I am an adult and realize the time lost in high school, if there was a way to regain the opportunity for a comprehensive education in those things that are so important to know (world history, politics, science, literature...etc).


Over the past 30 years, I have witnessed a dramatic dilution of school courses. You can and will obtain a high school diploma with such courses as: Wedding Planning, Nutrition (touring a Chocolate factory) and literally no "hard" courses. In our school district, children are given high school credit for knowing how to open a can of soup. One neighbor's child (18) did not understand how to prepare a "grilled cheese sandwich". If our children cannot perform even the basic life tasks as older teenagers, how can they compete? Oh, and rumor has it, our administrators are working to lower the drinking age to 18. So, are we enabling our children to be stupid, lazy, drunken, fat, non-competitive, entitled, disrespectful individuals? My husband works for a school system (not a teacher). A good day is when he is not verbally cursed, gestured or the like. He is college-educated, but lost his job to another country. One co-worker is a Podiatrist (working as a school bus driver). Our state is number 11 in obesity and number 1 in foreclosures. Our school district graduates approximately 51 percent (with the above curricula! -- no child left behind)

I certainly am concerned about America's future.


The volume of Physics to be studied by Indian students at the plus two stage (Classes 11 and 12)is greater than the volume to be studied in the AP Physics B and C courses. Multiple choice questions at the AP Physics Exams are simpler than those in various entrance exams given to plus two level students in India. But the free response questions at the AP Physics exams can claim better standard.


I always find it troubling to read defenses of the American educational system from "high achievers" who don't use proper grammar and punctuation to make their points. I just read Logan's post. Does he not know how to write correctly or did he choose not to? The poor writing skills of so many of our "successful" students are proof of the failure of American education.


your blog is totally biased.

you're not showing the whole picture.
there are a lot of high schools in america that are excellent where kids are taking hard science, math, english, computer etc. classes every year and 5-7 AP classes their senior year. I spent my high school summers taking science classes through CTY (center for talented youth) - a Johns Hopkins Program that lets middle school and high schoolers live at a college and take college level courses there. we covered a year of biology in 3 weeks.
it was awesome.

i'm going to go back to my argument of being well-rounded.
i know and met a lot of indian kids (straight from the country) when i was in college....i went to any ivy league school. these kids definitely had far superior math/science skills but no verbal/written skills. they couldn't write a paper to save their life. they also had no outside interests, like sports (soccer or tennis), hobbies (dancing, painting, etc), or dreams (i want to be the first to do "xyz", i want to start my own company) etc...

they were mostly robots and had a HARD time relating to people.
you can have all the math skills in the world, but if you are not a visionary and can't relate to people, you're at a huge loss. you won't be able to get investors, build a team of smart people around you or get people to believe in you.

and i would say that when it comes to literature, americans beat indians hands down. whatever you may think or say, the written word is powerful.
sure you can put a price on the stock of a tech company. but is the value of a $10 paperback of shakespeare's "romeo & juliet" only $10?
i don't think so.

it's invaluable. as are any good books, poems, etc.

that skill, to piece together words and string together sentences so that others are moved, imaginations are stirred, people are dreaming and thinking of different possibilities...that is MAGIC. and a talent that i would argue is no less important than knowing a lot about math/science.

also, as an indian who was born and raised in america, i always excelled in math/science, i took all the AP classes for math & science, i won awards, was a westinghouse finalist, etc...but I also excelled in English, and was MVP of my soccer teams, and president of the volunteer club, etc...

i entered college pre-med and after a year, realized i could handle it.
i got an A in organic chemistry and physics. but i looked down the road and saw a life of being in a hospital and dealing with HMO's and being in school and residency for another 8 years..... and my heart just wasn't in it.

so i switched majors. majored in English, am working on my first novel and working at a great publishing firm where i help artists achieve their dreams. i've never been happier.

there is a lot of value that goes into choice.

the indians kids just don't know what else they could possibly do besides be an engineer or doctor and the culture there is so crazy that it looks bad or 'not smart' if you decide to do anything else.

i feel bad for them.


I'm amazed at Kyle's comment that students don't take his course. When I was in high school in Ohio at a Catholic all schools in the 1980s everyone had to take one year of physics. Today I teach at a co-ed Catholic Independent school also in Ohio and every junior must take either college prep or honors level physics. AP Physics B and C are elective senior courses. Until I saw this film I didn't even realize that most schools don't require Physics!


I'm Irish. My husband is Asian. We are both really shocked by the low educational standards in the US. We have a preschooler and a newborn. We have already taught our preschooler to read. We work on premath concepts and do basic science projects with her.

We know that we have to take responsibilty for our kids' educations. We are considering homeschooling through elementary but we haven't made a final decision on that yet. But we have concluded that we can't depend on the schools.

Our parents were able to send us to school and trust that we would get a great education if we made the effort. We don't trust our local schools at all and we live in a middle class area.

Unfortunately, most American parents and educators don't realise that kids here are way behind their counterparts in other countries. Or they believe that American schools teach creativity and schools in other countries don't, so everything will be ok. As long as there is ignorance or dismissiveness things won't get better and American kids will continue to be subjected to a mediocre, unchallenging education and endless multiple choice tests that measure memorization skills rather than competence.


Bob, I am a Science/Math teacher. I taught in India for many years and now I am teaching in USA. There is a wide gap not only in the level of knowledge and skills but also in level of understanding. "As food is to body, knowledge is to brain" but I am not able to understand why we want to make learning so easy and below the maturity level of students. It is important to provide challenge. "Empty brain is devils workshop". This is a reason many teenagers are involved in sex, drugs and other type of grown up activities. National Education Standards and National or state level, standardized examination system is must. It is important to make students realize that it is not teacher; it will be their own subject knowledge which will pass them from high school. I think this is one very big difference in the education system in India and in USA. I have all my respect for all the teachers but they are sometime under pressure. They cannot fail many students and thus, they promote even those students to next grade level who are not well prepared. We are trying to hold the students in our high schools but we are not doing enough to educate them in real sense. Anju

The comments to this entry are closed.

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter