It was 4 am. Austin had already got up. He crept down the stairs and made himself a cup of fresh Colombian coffee. This 17-year-old Chinese-American high school student from Minnesota, the US, has been in love with strong coffee since he was admitted into high school. The coffee could wake him up instantly from six hours of sleep.
In the following two hours, he needed to prepare for classes, and finish yesterday's math homework which was delayed due to a part-time job. This academic year is his last in high school. The pressure on his shoulder is all demonstrated in that big schoolbag which weighs more than 100 pounds.
Before attending high school, Austin spent his school years relaxing. But now due to the deepening of the US education reform, he is being unprecedentedly nervous. He needs to do well in SAT and AP to be admitted into top-ranking US universities. What's more, he needs to make up his share of extracurricular activities.
Each year in Austin's high school, those who receive offer from prestigious universities like Harvard and Yale have not only excellent test performances, but also a strong extracurricular record.
Austin does a part-time job at a nearby McDonald's every weekend. Every other day he coaches lower-grade students in math and physics. He has to take out two hours every week to attend tennis training. Besides that, he plays saxophone at the school's orchestra band.
According to Austin's mother, who works at a middle school, two consecutive presidents of the US, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have felt serious challenges from Asia in terms of education, especially primary education, and that some classes have already lagged behind those in Asian countries.
Education reform has become the most talked about topic in American families. Many parents have realized that, as Obama said, it is already a 21st century world "where a child born in Dallas is now competing with a child in New Delhi."
Some primary schools in Minnesota have already launched pilot programs of immersion education, requiring grade one students to choose a foreign language as teaching language in the next five years.
In other words, throughout the five years, teachers will use a foreign language to teach all classes including mathematics, history and geography. And Putonghua has already become one of the options.
According to a February report by US News & World Report, "The survey of 1,000 K-12 teachers found, among other things, that high school teachers on average assign about 3.5 hours of homework each week. For high school students who typically have five classes with different teachers, that could mean as much as 17.5 hours each week."
It also reported that "By comparison, a 2011 study from the National Center for Education Statistics found high school students reported spending an average of 6.8 hours of homework per week."
A slogan widely spread among Chinese-American students clearly signals what high school means for them: Six hours of sleep is happiness, five hours of sleep is pleasure, and four hours of sleep is normal.
The driving force of the ongoing education reform stems from a recognition by American society, families and government of the greater background of globalization, and it also stems from Asian students that keep thronging into local high schools.
Many are like Austin, the second generation of elite Chinese who received a good education abroad after China's reform and opening-up. The situation of Indian-American students is similar; their parents usually work for high-tech companies in the US.
Certainly, there are also many Asian students who left for the US to study after junior middle school. The percentage of such students has risen quickly in recent years. More and more Asian students are now studying in the US, bringing enormous revenues for this country. More importantly, their appearance will further stimulate the reform of US education and further boost its competitiveness.
The fundamental source of US prosperity is not these educational revenues that keep flowing in, but the fact that US education builds a ladder for numerous students to walk toward success in the future.