A guest post today from Island Dweller, who does indeed dwell on an island.
In perusing the news screeds this morning I came across the following. It is a rather lengthy article re: the poor educational showing, not of American adolescents, but of American adults, in a recent multinational survey. I apologize for its length, not, however, for its content.
New York Post via AP
October 8, 2013
WASHINGTON — It’s long been known that America’s school kids haven’t measured well compared with international peers. Now, there’s a new twist: Adults don’t either.
In math, reading and problem-solving using technology – all skills considered critical for global competitiveness and economic strength – American adults scored below the international average on a global test, according to results released Tuesday.
Adults in Japan, Canada, Australia, Finland and multiple other countries scored significantly higher than the United States in all three areas on the test.
Beyond basic reading and math, respondents were tested on activities such as calculating mileage reimbursement due to a salesman, sorting email and comparing food expiration dates on grocery store tags.
Not only did Americans score poorly compared to many international competitors, the findings reinforced just how large the gap is between the nation’s high- and low-skilled workers and how hard it is to move ahead when your parents haven’t…
The study, called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, found that it was easier on average to overcome this and other barriers to literacy overseas than in the United States.
Researchers tested about 166,000 people ages 16 to 65 in more than 20 countries and subnational regions. The test was developed and released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is made up of mostly industrialized member countries. The Education Department’s Center for Education Statistics participated.
The findings were equally grim for many European countries – Italy and Spain, among the hardest hit by the recession and debt crisis, ranked at the bottom across generations. Unemployment is well over 25 percent in Spain and over 12 percent in Italy. Spain has drastically cut education spending, drawing student street protests…
But in the northern European countries that have fared better, the picture was brighter – and the study credits continuing education. In Finland, Denmark, and the Netherlands, more than 60 percent of adults took part in either job training or continuing education. In Italy, by contrast, the rate was half that…
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement the nation needs to find ways to reach more adults to upgrade their skills. Otherwise, he said, “no matter how hard they work, these adults will be stuck, unable to support their families and contribute fully to our country.”
Among the other findings:
-Americans scored toward the bottom in the category of problem solving in a technology rich environment. The top five scores in the areas were from Japan, Finland, Australia, Sweden and Norway, while the US score was on par with England, Estonia, Ireland and Poland. In nearly all countries, at least 10 percent of adults lacked the most basic of computer skills such as using a mouse.
-Japanese and Dutch adults who were ages 25 to 34 and only completed high school easily outperformed Italian or Spanish university graduates of the same age.
-In England, Germany, Italy, Poland, and the United States, social background has a big impact on literacy skills, meaning the children of parents with low levels of education have lower reading skills…
America’s school kids have historically scored low on international assessment tests compared to other countries, which is often blamed on the diversity of the population and the high number of immigrants. Also, achievement tests have long shown that a large chunk of the US student population lacks basic reading and math skills – most pronounced among low-income and minority students…
“If you want to avoid having an underclass – a large group of people who are basically unemployable – this educational system is absolutely key,” [Jacob] Kirkegaard [an economist with the Peterson Institute for International Economics] said.
Dolores Perin, professor of psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, said the report provides a “good basis for an argument there should be more resources to support adults with low literacy.”
…China and India did not participate in this assessment…
Among the other findings:
-Japan, Finland, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Flanders-Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, and Korea all scored significantly higher than the United States in all three areas on the test.
-The average scores in literacy range from 250 in Italy to 296 in Japan. The US average score was 270. (500 was the highest score in all three areas.) Average scores in 12 countries were higher than the average US score.
-The average scores in math range from 246 in Spain to 288 in Japan. The US average score was 253, below 18 other countries.
-The average scores on problem solving in technology-rich environments ranged from 275 in Poland to 294 in Japan. The US average score was 277, below 14 other countries.
I suspect Puter may be quite interested in this study as well.
Note the references by learned experts to more “resources” (read “funding”) being made available to counteract this trend. The teacher’s payment on the BMW must be late.
A note: Both my parents were products of the Great Depression (with, by the way, the Pretty Good Depression now underway a close second to that unhappy time). My mother managed a high school diploma; dad never graduated high school, leaving the house at 16 so there would be one less mouth to feed. He was one of the best spellers I ever knew, frequently correcting spelling errors on construction blueprints college-educated engineers had drawn up. He was also extremely good at math. It’s not so much your parents’ income level as it is their respect for education and learning (two different things). He even won an award (a large dictionary) from the metro area newspaper in 1932 for his prowess at a spelling competition in that town. Lots of smart people have come from humble backgrounds; conversely, there are a great many educated schmucks running around, just like here, with degrees who can’t make change or fix a dripping faucet – both useful everyday skills. A lot of them don’t really understand economics in spite of making money out of our economic system. Plenty of stupidity to go around – just look at our popularly-elected Dear Leader.