ETS: Even The Best and Brightest of American Young Adults are Dim

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Hey Mav, you got the number for that truck driving school in Oklahoma? I think we’re going to need it. ETS dives into Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) data to measure the abilities of the American millennial generation (aka our those tasked with keeping the lights on after the entire Baby Boom generation reaches retirement age circa 2030) compared to their peers around the globe. The news is not good:

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 relatively 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.

Link to full report here. I’ll be reading through this, I’m not convinced that this squares with other analysis of PISA data available, but I plan to look into it. If it holds up it is a damning indictment not only of K-12 but also of our six year beer soaked odysseys of self discovery sometimes resulting in degrees apparently of lower value that we suspected higher education system.

HT Kingsland



12 Responses to ETS: Even The Best and Brightest of American Young Adults are Dim

  1. Robin says:

    This comes across as an advertisement for expanding competency-based education into higher ed beyond the Western Governors or Southern New Hampshire templates. This would fit into viewing P-16 as a single system designed to change how the student sees and is likely to interact with the world.

    It comes about 2 weeks after KnowledgeWorks pushed the ESEA Rewrite to be shifted to competency as a fundamental paradigm shift in the purpose of public education. It also fits with what PISA actually measures and ETS’ new Proficiency Profile it is marketing to monitor the outcomes of higher ed.

    That profile is quite tied to measuring both mindset and social and emotional competencies.

    Isn’t all this discussion less about what is best for education and more about political science reengineering using existing social institutions?

  2. matthewladner says:

    It’s perfectly possible for it to both be an advertisement and contain valid and alarming information. It’s also possible that the information does not square with other data, such as the United States Department of Education’s study linking PISA and NAEP for instance.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    Once again, excellent deployment of pop culture reference in this post. You are on quite a roll. Goodness gracious, great balls of fire!

  4. matthewladner says:

    I’ve had the chance to read the report and look back at the DoE breakdown of PISA scores by American subgroups. It is possible that both studies are correct. The DoE subgroup study found various advantaged subgroups in the U.S. score higher than national averages, but that could be consistent with very low scores when comparing like to like groups in the way this study lays things out.

    In short: Crash and burn Mav!

  5. Robin says:

    As someone who is quite familiar with NAEP and Ralph Tyler’s purposes in creating it, it does not tie to factual knowledge in the traditional sense. It is more open ended as is PISA.

    DeSeCo–the OECD’s Definition and Selection of Competencies is what PISA measures. You are saying that NAEP too was actually always monitoring the extent to which various districts and states had switched from a transmission of knowledge approach to constructivist, outcomes-based education. My research shows that to be true. That’s the real reason for the associated linkage.

    I have a chapter in my book Credentialed to Destroy laying out how Competency was always the real end game with the Common Core misdescribed generally to serve as the national conduit in K-12.

    I actually downloaded and read all the ETS papers related to competency in higher ed about a week ago. Fascinating how much it emulates the K-12 template described in my book. Your post was timely in this area that is still sp poorly understood by most.

  6. Just a mom says:

    If more Americans went to truck driving school, and fewer wasted their money on dubious four year degrees, we’d have a wiser, better educated population and a more vibrant economy.

    • matthewladner says:

      There is not much of a case to make for dubious four year degrees, but there is this tech firm out in CA working on making self driving trucks…

      • Greg Forster says:

        Fair point, but brainless bureaucracy, fearmongering politicians and an increasingly cowardly public will conspire to keep self-driving vehicles off the road for at least 20 more years.

      • matthewladner says:

        From what I understand the last technical hurdle is a big one- it is hard for a computer to distinguish between a tumbleweed rolling out in front of the truck and a child. So maybe it never happens, but then again, maybe it does. Ergo I would prefer to have kids who choose to go off to Goose’s truck driving school well educated enough to make a transition to something else if necessary. Everyone else too.

      • Greg Forster says:

        The fight over whether self-driving vehicles are permitted on the roads will be only marginally affected by the technological merits.

        Equipping people to be able to switch sectors as necessary is an important function of education, but it is not necessarily inconsistent with their receiving sector-specific education. If K-12 helped people develop the necessary personality traits and behaviors – a sense of agency and purpose – sector switching would be relatively simple. You could graduate high school, go to trucking school, work 20 years while the politicians fight over whether they’ll get bigger bribes from GM or Google, and then when the switch finally comes, go to whatever is the equivalent of trucking school in another sector.

  7. Eric Gonchar says:

    Eric Gonchar

    ETS: Even The Best and Brightest of American Young Adults are Dim | Jay P. Greene’s Blog

  8. Still Unemployed After All These Years says:

    Well, I guess that’s one way to knock my top 01% GRE score – just say it doesn’t mean anything.

    I already had that happen with my college degree, then my graduate degree.

    You’ll see me next week begging for food at an intersection.

    Hey, if the nation’s employers can’t hire motivated people who have already demonstrated a work ethic across 20 years of schooling AND test well, they don’t deserve to have anyone keeping the lights on.

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