Smart enough?

The (not so bright) hopes of the future

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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.

U.S. is above average in math, science

U.S. eighth graders in 36 states outperform the international average, reports the National Center for Education Statistics. In science, U.S. students in 46 states outscored the global competition.

However, even in the top-performing states — Massachusetts, Vermont and Minnesota — fewer U.S. students scored at the highest levels than students in several East Asian countries, notes the New York Times.

“It’s better news than we’re used to,” said David Driscoll, the chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the national exams commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card. “But it’s still not anything to allow us to rest on our laurels.”

While 19 percent of eighth graders in Massachusetts, the highest-performing state, scored at the advanced level in math, close to 50 percent were advanced in South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.

Twenty-four percent of Massachusetts students achieved the advanced level, compared with 40 percent in Singapore.

France, Germany, Denmark, China and India did not participate, notes Paul Peterson, a Harvard education professor.

This global math achievement graph, via Education Week, shows the U.S. tied with Britain. South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan — you sense a pattern perhaps — do the best.

In science, the top seven performers globally are: Singapore, Massachusetts, Taiwan, Vermont, South Korea, Japan and New Hampshire.

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.

1/3 of young Americans hold college degrees

One-third of the nation’s 25- to 29-year-olds have completed at least a bachelor’s degree, accordin to a Pew study. That’s a new high. Sixty-three percent have completed at least “some” college. And 90 percent have a high school diploma or GED.

With fewer job prospects, young adults are staying in school, Pew reports. In addition, many more people believe a college education is necessary to get ahead in life. In a 2010 Gallup poll, 75 percent said a college education is “very important,”up from 36 percent In 1978.

However, the U.S. higher education system is no longer the best in the world, according to a 2011 Pew survey of college presidents.  ”College presidents are concerned about the quality, preparedness and study habits of today’s college students,” Pew reports. Fifty-two percent say college students today study less than their predecessors did a decade ago; just 7 percent say they study more.

 

U.S. is big spender on education

The U.S. spends twice as much per student on education as the OECD average, reports BrainTrack.

How Much Do Nations Spend on Students?
From: BrainTrack.com

Can our students compete?

U.S. athletes will go for gold in the Olympics, but U.S. students aren’t competing well in the global arena, argues Michelle Rhee in promoting a new Students First video.

The U.S. never has scored well on international exams, notes Gary Rubenstein.

In the 1964 FIMS test, we were 11th out of 12. These tests are not predictors of future economic strength, obviously since our students from 1964 have helped make the U.S. economy very strong.

U.S. schools score well when compared to schools in countries with similar poverty levels, he adds.

Koala dads, creative kids

Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World  by Harvard’s Tony Wagner is written for “Waldorf parents, Montessori moms and Koala dads,” according to Education Gadfly.

The premise is that America needs to foster more innovation and grow more entrepreneurs—both the STEM and social varieties—to remain globally competitive. Drawing on 150 interviews (and ten case studies of young innovators), Wagner argues that play, passion, and purpose must dominate one’s growth (through childhood and into college). . . . He exalts disruptive innovation, calls for abolishing “publish or perish” tenure determinations for professors, concedes that content cannot be drowned in an effort to boost process skills, and posits an interesting charter-like reboot of college education.

Living in Silicon Valley, I meet lots of entrepreneurs who are both very well-educated in technical fields and creative risk takers. Many are immigrants drawn to the U.S. by the entrepreneurial culture — or they’re the children of supportive, engaged, educated parents.

Teens have formed an entrepreneurs’ clubat Palo Alto High, my daughter’s alma mater, reports the New York Times.

Like many young entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, Matthew Slipper knows that success does not come easy. His first startup, an online education venture, flopped. His second, a video-sharing app for the iPhone, has sold only 20 copies.

But Slipper is optimistic. He should be. He’s just 18, a founding member of the Paly Entrepreneurs Club, an extracurricular group at the local high school that sprang into existence last September — the brainchild of about a dozen students committed to inventing the future.

. . . Founding a company in high school is “a great opportunity,” said Vincent Gurle, 18. Later in life, “if you fail at business you might have to go live with your parents,” he said. “But we’re already doing that.”

It helps to have parents and neighbors who have started or financed high-tech companies.

Like U.S., Japan faces ‘skills gap’

In Japan, talented 15-year-olds can go directly to technical colleges that mix academic rigor and “workplace know-how,” writes Blaine Harden in the Washington Post.

. . . they turn into full-time nerds-in-training, enrolling in colleges where they make robots and write software, test diodes and study English, dirty their hands on factory floors and wait for job offers to come flooding in. . . . Graduates of the standard five-year course at Japan’s 57 national colleges of technology, collectively known as Kosen, can each expect about 20 job offers, school officials say. Students who stay on for an extra two years of advanced study receive about 30 offers.

Only one percent of students, often from working-class families, go to Kosen. Most Japanese students go to universities, which don’t offer practical training, says Motohisa Kaneko, director of research at the Center for National University Finance and Management. “Even the basic competence of university graduates in engineering is rather dubious.”

The skills gap that troubles Japan is tormenting the United States. Since 2000, the percentage of U.S. young adults aged 20-24 with jobs has fallen from 74 percent to 62 percent, a level not seen since the 1930s, according to a 2011 study by Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. It concluded that the “college-for-all” system that emerged in the United States after World War II is failing the majority of American youth.

By the time they reach their mid-20s, only about 40 percent of Americans earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, census data show.

“We are leaving a lot of kids behind,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “High school in America is about preparing for a college degree that most young people will not get, and in the meantime these kids are disconnected from anything that is real in the world of work.”

The story is the first in the Hechinger Report‘s Lessons from Abroad series on how our  international competitors are educating their young people.

Forty-one percent of Americans 25 to 34 years old have earned an associate or bachelor’s degree. South Korea, where 63 percent of young adults hold a credential, leads the world, followed by Canada and Japan, both at 56 percent. Russia is fourth, at 55 percent.

The series will examine higher education in China, India, Japan and South Korea, as well as Canada, Great Britain and Ireland.