The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), a project of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in March released a report produced by the Educational Testing Service on the assessment of educational competency of the age group known as the “millennials”, those young adults born after 1980 who were 16-34 years of age at the time of the assessment. There were 23 participating countries in the study and the focus was chosen because this cohort represents the most recent products of our education system and will be the generation that will shape the economic and social landscape of these countries for many years to come.
The results for American millennials were abysmal. In summary, quoting from the introduction to the report, “One central message that emerges from this report is that, despite having the highest levels of educational attainment of any previous American generation, these young adults on average demonstrate weak skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving in technology-rich environments compared to their international peers. 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. 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”. Can one imagine a worse overview?
A few specifics:
• In literacy, U. S. millennials scored lower than 15 of the 23 participating countries.
• In numeracy, U. S. millennials ranked at the bottom, along with Italy and Spain.
• Our best educated millennials—those with a master’s or research degree—only scored higher than their peers in Ireland, Poland, and Spain.
• Among all countries, there was a strong relationship between parental levels of educational attainment and skills; across all levels of parental educational attainment, there was no country where millennials scored lower than those in the U. S.
In closing the introduction to the report, there is a stern warning from the authors: “As a country, we need to confront not only how we can compete in a global economy, but also what kind of future we can construct when a sizable segment of our future workforce is not equipped with the skills necessary for higher-level employment and meaningful participation in our democratic institutions”.
My take away from this report is that there is a direct correlation between these results and the social disconnect inherent in the dysfunction of our inner cities and its impact on the education of our minority youth. This has been illustrated in high relief in the recent disturbances in Baltimore and elsewhere. I have previously written about the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board studies that have revealed that only an average of about 20% of the 1998-2003 cohorts of Texas eighth-graders have achieved any type of credential–associate degree, bachelor degree, or industry certification–within six years after expected high school graduation. This is consistent with national findings and this PIACC report. These results are untenable and will not sustain a democratic republic, much less economic competitiveness. We need to get serious, folks.
This report deserves careful study. It can be found at www.ets.org/s/research/30079/overview.