According to the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), American Millennials (those born after 1980 – 16 to 34 years of age), the most recent products of our educational system, have attained more education than any in our history, and with all that time spent in education, they are the weakest in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments compared to their international peers.
For those who believe that more time spent in a formal school setting provides more and better skills, that no longer seems to be the case, according to this study.
To put it bluntly, we no longer share the growth and prosperity of the nation the way we did in the decades between 1940 and 1980. Since around 1975, those who have acquired the highest levels of education and skills have become the big winners, while those with the lowest levels of education and skills have fared the worst. Millions of hard-working Americans who believed they were strongly anchored in the middle class have fallen into joblessness and economic insecurity. As the authors note, these changes have both immediate and long-term consequences for families, communities, and the nation as a whole.
PIAAC is not the only national institution to question the outcomes of our educational system.
The fact is that other educational surveys, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), have reported similar results for our high school seniors. In 2013, NAEP reported that 74 percent of the nation’s twelfth graders were below proficient in mathematics and 62 percent were below proficient in reading. In addition, organizations such as ACT, which evaluates the college and career readiness of the young adult population in the United States, recently reported that nearly one out of three high school graduates (31%) taking its exam failed to meet any of the four college readiness benchmarks in English, math, reading, and science, suggesting they are not well prepared for first-year college coursework. Similarly, the College Board reported in 2013 that 57 percent of SAT takers failed to qualify as “college ready.” The PIAAC data, therefore, is not anomalous; in fact, it forms part of a broader picture of America’s skills challenge.
So, in short:
- In literacy, U.S. millennials scored lower than 15 of the 22 participating countries. Only millennials in Spain and Italy had lower scores.
- In numeracy, U.S. millennials ranked last, along with Italy and Spain.
- In PS-TRE, U.S. millennials also ranked last, along with the Slovak Republic, Ireland, and Poland.
- The youngest segment of the U.S. millennial cohort (16- to 24-year-olds), who could be in the labor force for the next 50 years, ranked last in numeracy along with Italy and among the bottom countries in PS-TRE. In literacy, they scored higher than their peers in Italy and Spain.
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