The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Opinion

October 14, 2013

Maureen Hayden: Americans outpaced by peers in literacy, math

(Continued)

Joseph Fuller, a researcher at Harvard Business School, told the Wall Street Journal that the OECD report shows the U.S. has lost the edge it held over the rest of the industrial world over the course of baby boomers’ work lives. “We had a lead and we blew it,” he said.

Regaining the lead won’t be easy: While the U.S. is chock full of globally ranked universities – places where people from around the world are clamoring to come – Americans with college and graduate degrees tested behind the global average of their counterparts when it came to math and solving problems using a computer.

Meanwhile, the report found that some countries have made impressive progress equipping their young citizens with better skills: Young Koreans, for example, are outperformed only by their Japanese peers, while Korea’s 55- to 64-year-olds are among the three lowest-performing groups in their age group. And while baby boomers in Finland perform around the average, young Finns are among the top performers.

Contrast that to what’s happening in the U.S.: Young Americans, between 16 and 25, rank the lowest among their peers in the 23 countries surveyed.

Turns out that only Americans with the most “cerebral jobs” – the ones that demand high levels of literacy, math and problem-solving skills — fared the best against the rest of the world.

So our brightest might be the best, but where does that leave the rest of us? On a downward trajectory if it’s true, as the report suggests, that we’re witnessing a massive deterioration in the competitiveness of the generations following the baby boomers.

The U.S. Department of Education, knowing the OECD findings were coming, produced its own report with policy recommendations for how to reverse that trajectory. But it hasn’t been released due to the government shutdown.

Columns by Maureen Hayden, Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI’s Indiana newspapers, appear Mondays in The Herald Bulletin. She can be reached at Maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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