It is March, it is report card time. Today, some reflections on my experience with the American school system compared with the Italian one. My sons are in elementary school, one in 4th grade and one in 5th grade. We choose a public school, a top-notch district in the US, a blue ribbon awarded one and all the best we could have wished for. However, I am still lost when it comes to compare the two systems and to figure it out which one is better and why.


The main difference is the level of difficulty, which is low in the US if compared to the Italian standards. My sons attended elementary schools until they were in 2nd and 4th grade and the transition, academically speaking, was a piece of cake. Both of them were outstanding in Math and the work load was similar to an Italian Pre-K level. A lot of hands-on activities and team projects, posters, and no hand writing (do you have an idea of how many tears this causes in Italian kids…and moms?).


Moreover, as I wrote in my previous post, On Moms with An Italian Accent, the statistics show that Italy is ranking first for the number of hours spent to do homework. It is normal, for an Italian student of elementary school, to stay in class from 8.30 am to 4 pm, Mondays to Fridays, and having a couple or more hours a day for independent study, plus a whole weekend to spend on books to prepare for the lessons of the following week. Not to mention winter and spring breaks that seem to be the best occasions for teachers to give tons poems to be learned by heart, pages and pages of History, Science, Geography to study. And endless passages of analisi grammaticale and analisi logica (the Boogeyman  of every student!!), where every word has to be analyzed in its grammatical or logical function.


In general, I would say that the Italian system gives a student a better preparation. However, if my husband and I moved here in our late thirties to study, pursuing his (second!) PhD in Finance and my MA in Publishing respectively, at least a deeper thought needed to be given. So I have started to see that the core of this differences is in the approach. If you seek for FORMATION, the Italian educational system is the excellence. If you seek for EDUCATION, the American system wins.

FORMATION (from the Latin word Forma = format, layout) etymologically means giving shape, form to something. So basically, in the Italian system, it has been decided that everybody need to know this, this and this. The teacher knows more than you, and you have to listen and repeat. The better you are at doing this, the higher marks you get. The notionistic approach, that is memorizing facts without real insight, is the norm, with frontal lessons from elementary to college.

EDUCATION (from the Latin word ex-ducere = bringing something out) is a nourishing approach. No matter if you are not good at History. There will always be a subject (even gym!!) where you can excel. The educational system is there to provide you with the tools to succeed in something. Hands-on activities, discussion, learning strategies are highly encouraged.

So, a difference in the approach, is a different in the system. And the report card or pagella embody the main differences.  Just check the infographic on the American report card and the Italian pagella.

American report card vs Italian pagella
American report card vs Italian pagella

So, in conclusion, I would say that none of the two systems is perfect. And none of them is completely to be rejected. If only I could stop torturing myself with the comparison between two systems, while the focus would need to be on the long terms effects of two different approaches. My conclusions in my next blog post on the subject, to be published in 15 years, when my sons will be out of school.



  1. Hi! Your post is interesting as I have a strong interest and developing background in education policy.

    I find that the American (NYC) education system has many flaws causing a huge disparity for underprivileged youth. I’d be interested in learning more about how other countries compare in this area.

    It was great reading your post!



    1. Ciao Dana! Well, if you think NYC has a huge disparity for education…well, I live in Philadelphia…When I got here I was shocked not because of the disparities themselves, but because people and institutions tolerated/accepted them as something normal.


  2. I have a 5 year old in the last year of materna and should start elementare next year and I worry about giving him the best education and where that is. One problem for me that is unacceptable is the year starts and in some schools you have up to 4 teachers missing for up to two or three weeks. Send him to the italian school move back to the states, home school him?


    1. Ciao! Thanks for stopping by! Yes, I agree that the situation at the beginning of the school year in Italy is unacceptable. Your concerns are understandable and I believe that it is not easy to make such a decision when you have to choose between so different educational systems. My only advice is that luckily the elementary school doesn’t have a deep impact on future education. Of course, some schools are better than others, but ultimately it is the teacher who makes the difference. Good luck!


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