The (not so bright) hopes of the future

Chart 3 final.png

In problem-solving, literacy and numeracy, 16- to 24-year-old Americans rank at or near the bottom on the OECD’s new international survey of adult literacy skills, reports the New Yorker. These young adults are “the folks who will be manning the global economy” for the next 30 or 40 years. Our 16- to 24-year-olds edge young Italians in literacy. That’s the bright spot.

About Joanne


  1. This issue has been a problem since the publication of:

    A Nation at Risk and it’s followup, A Nation Still At Risk.

    The United States will no longer be a superpower or even an economic power inside of 25 years, as the national debt load (interest payments only) will top a trillion dollars a year, along with national defense, medicare, and social security.

    There won’t be any public funding for education, no matter how many laws congress and the states pass mandating that taxpayers must fund it (since the taxpayers won’t have any money themselves).


    • Remember that the US is actually above average in both math and science.

      While the national debt is a problem, it’s worth noting that the United States ran a surplus every year from 1998-2000. There is evidence that the country is getting fed up with extremists and is ready to return to the moderate policies that gave us a surplus just a little over ten years ago.

      • What gave us the surplus was the dot com boom, a Republican Congress, and a Democratic president willing to compromise.

  2. Break down the U.S.’s results by demographics and then compare.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Worked with exchange students (AFS) for more than twenty years. Most–maybe all–were on the college track, however that worked out in their country. Many said that a good number of kids were legitimately dropping out to go to work–South America, mostly.
    So my question is whether the other nations’ scores for high school age are mostly college-track kids, or, as in the US, everybody from National Merit Scholars to kids too dumb to duck the truant officer.
    If we exclude those whose first language is not English, how does that affect literacy?

  4. Ponderosa says:

    I wonder about the validity of the PISA test. I just read Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World which talks about the PISA as a sort of new generation test that purports to test thinking skills. I’m guessing the new Smarter Balanced tests are imitations of it. If the PISA is like the SBA, I have real doubts that it measures meaningful mental ability. The SBA privileges doggedness at tedious, brain-numbing chores, rather than knowledge. It undermeasures knowledge. And what if knowledge is actually important? I also wonder how secure the PISA test is. Koreans were recently caught in a big SAT cheating scandal, and faking scientific data: pressure is intense there to show results. And Poland: huge quick test surge after controversial reforms. Did the ministry of education tamper? Not to defend mediocrity in the US, but one should approach all claims critically.

    • Unfortunately, there are quite a few folks who see a threat in testing of any sort. As far as they’re concerned testing is a bad thing because it undermines the largely unvoiced and unexamined, though extremely convenient, assumption that those tasked with the job of educating kids will perform the job at least competently.

      Under that circumstance testing of any sort is better then no testing since the issue then becomes improvement of the test rather then sliding gratefully back into the much more agreeable situation of assuming the tax-paying public’s getting our money’s worth.