[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on March 18th of this year, was our #5 most popular story of the year. The countdown continues tomorrow with #4, so be sure to check back!]
It’s a conversation a decade ago that was so widely circulated and discussed that even dedicated education stakeholders grew weary of it: U.S. students are performing below average in math and reading compared to their international peers—what do we do? 10 years of jumbled reform initiatives and touting Millennials as the most educated demographic in recent history later, national and international research groups say nothing has changed; and, in fact, it may be getting worse.
In 2013, the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) released the first-ever global data on how the U.S. population aged 16 to 65 compared to other countries in terms of skills in literacy and reading, numeracy, and problem-solving in technology-rich environments (PS-TRE). The PIAAC then broke down the data by specific age group, including Millennials, or those born after 1980 that were between the ages of 16-34 at the time of the assessment (2012).
Overall, revealed the data, despite having the highest levels of educational attainment of any previous American generation, Millennials, on average, demonstrate relatively weak skills in all skill sets researched compared to their international peers.
Also, the data revealed that while it is true, on average, that the more years of education one completes the more skills one acquires, far too many are graduating high school and completing postsecondary education without receiving the right skills needed to enter a competitive, global workforce that is becoming more and more technology-based.
“These findings hold true when looking at millennials overall, our best performing and most educated, those who are native born, and those from the highest socioeconomic background,” writes Irwin Kirsch, Ralph Tyler Chair in Large-Scale Assessment and Director of the Center for Global Assessments at Educational Testing Service (ETS). “Equally troubling is that these findings represent a decrease in literacy and numeracy skills for U.S. adults when compared with results from previous adult surveys.”
Kirsch also cited several studies from organizations that support the PIAAC’s findings, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), ACT, and the College Board.
But what are the hard numbers to support these claims; and is it just a matter of more education?
(Next page: Hard data on Millennials’ skills; implications for skills-based education)