Falling Further Behind … The Economic Impact

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As my regular readers know, I enjoy data-based reports. While there is always room for interpretation, I often prefer this type of research more than pure opinions. A great source of data on education (all levels) in this country is NCES (National Center for Education Statistics). NCES is “the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.” As part of the Department of Education and mandated by Congress, NCES collects and analyzes statistics primarily related to the condition of American education from early childhood to postsecondary and adult education.

Since 2000, NCES has conducted an international comparative assessment entitled PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment). The study is conducted every three years and represents cooperation between NCES and OECD (Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development). OECD is an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries.

Specifically, PISA primarily provides information related to 15-year old students’ reading, mathematics and science literacy in 65 countries. The results of the Pisa 2012, just released, also include computer-based assessments in mathematics literacy, reading literacy, and general problem-solving, as well as an assessment of students’ financial literacy.

The results are very concerning. Regarding mathematics literacy, only 9% of American 15-year old students were identified as “top performing," and 23% were below the baseline of proficiency. The average American score was lower than 29 other education systems, higher than 26, and not measurably different than 9 others. The best performing states were Massachusetts and Connecticut, the lowest was Florida.

The results in science literacy were not much better. Only 7% percent of American 15-year old students were identified as “top performing,” and 18% were below the baseline of proficiency. The average American score was lower than 22 other education systems, higher than 29, and not measurably different than 13 others. Again, the best performing states were Massachusetts and Connecticut, the lowest was Florida.

The results in reading literacy followed a similar pattern of global mediocrity. Only 8% percent of American 15-year old students were identified as “top performing,” and 17% were below the baseline of proficiency. The average American score was lower than 19 other education systems, higher than 34, and not measurably different than 11 others. Again, the best performing states were Massachusetts and Connecticut, the lowest was Florida.

The scores on computer-based assessments were similarly non-competitive and the U.S. performance over the past decade has not significantly changed in relative performance and ranking.

This is not the first time that we have data reflecting our poor performance in these areas compared with China, Japan, Finland, Australia and Canada. But what caught my attention beyond this data was the connection some are making to these results and the economy of this country.

In a recent article, for example, Thomas Friedman, of “The World is Flat” fame, shared this related fact. In 1979, a third of the American workforce took home half of the national income. Today, half the national income is earned by the top 10%.

In fact, the foundation of the American middle class (high wage, middle-skilled jobs) are moving away in dramatic fashion to other countries (China and India) with better qualified employees or they are becoming automated (computers and robots).

The answer is not in higher wages, lower taxes or health care. The answer is in better education. Parents need to send their children to school ready to learn. Parents and their children need to support and respect teachers and administrators in all educational settings. Students must recognize their own need to learn. All stakeholders in our American educational system must work together for the benefit of our country’s economic future.

This will be my last blog for 2013. I will return in January 2014. I wish each and every one of you a blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with health and happiness!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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Guest Thursday, 17 April 2014