U.S. adults lag in numeracy, literacy

U.S. adults are dumber than the average human, proclaims the New York Post. A new international study doesn’t quite say that. But it’s not great news.

art“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,” the Post reports.

Adults in Japan, Canada, Australia, Finland and other countries scored higher than the United States in all three areas on the test, reports the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).

Americans ranked 16 out of 23 industrialized countries in literacy and 21 out of 23 in numeracy. In a new test of “problem solving in technology rich environments,” the U.S. ranked 17 out of 19. 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.

American baby boomers outperformed people of the same age overseas, reports the Wall Street JournalYounger Americans lagged behind their international peers “in some cases by significant margins.”

The results show that the U.S. has lost the edge it held over the rest of the industrial world over the course of baby boomers’ work lives, said Joseph Fuller, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School who studies competitiveness. “We had a lead and we blew it,” he said, adding that the generation of workers who have fallen behind their peers would have a difficult time catching up.

“We have a substantial percentage of the work force that does not have the basic aptitude to continue to learn and to make the most out of new technologies,” Mr. Fuller said. “That manifests itself in lower rates of productivity growth, and it’s productivity growth that drives real wage growth.”

Workers in Spain and Italy posted the lowest scores.

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  1. Ted Craig says:

    “The results show that the U.S. has lost the edge it held over the rest of the industrial world over the course of baby boomers’ work lives.”
    The actual study shows that edge never existed.

  2. The baby boomers outscored younger Americans, eh? While my knee-jerk reaction is to blame curricula changes (Go, phonics and traditional math algorithms!), I must admit that demographics could be a major cause of our academic decline. For example, while I think Hispanics have the ability to do very well in school (I’m part Hispanic 🙂 ), the cultures of many of the recent economically-motivated immigrants from Latin American countries tend not to value education highly enough. (It would also help if bilingual teachers didn’t try to introduce SPANISH sight words. http://iteachduallanguage.blogspot.com/2012/10/palabras-de-alta-frecuenciahigh.html Ack!)

  3. Young American adults (aged 16-24) posted lower results in numeracy and problem solving than did those in Italy, Spain, or any other country tested.

    These disastrous data should comprise the final nail in the coffin deserved by No Child Left Behind, since our fixation over the last ten years with having our young people bubble in the right marks or else on very narrow tests has led to a generation of young adults of very limited skills who are disastrously ill prepared to compete in a global economy.