Behind the Headline: Americans Rank Last in Problem-Solving With Technology

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Americans Rank Last in Problem-Solving With Technology
Wall Street Journal | 3/10/2016

Behind the Headline
U.S. Students from Educated Families Lag in International Tests
Education Next | Fall 2015

A new report that looks at the skill of using technology to solve problems and evaluate information ranks American workers 18th out of 18 participating industrial countries. The report grows out of research conducted in 2012 and 2014 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

As Douglas Belkin writes in the Wall Street Journal

If the problem-solving deficit is bad, the reasons for it may be worse, said Stephen Provasnik, the U.S. technical adviser for the International Assessment for Adult Competency: flagging literacy and numeracy skills, which are the fundamental tools needed to score well on the survey.

He also notes

Data on 16- to 34-year-olds, for instance, found even workers with college degrees and graduate or professional degrees don’t stack up favorably against their international peers with similar education levels. Fewer of these most-educated Americans perform at the highest levels on tests of numeracy and problem solving with technology.

Belkin writes that some observers believe that the result may help explain “the volatile undercurrent of this year’s presidential race.”

Marc Tucker, president and CEO of the National Center for Education and the Economy, a not-for-profit educational research organization, says the U.S.’s weak standing in labor skills shown in the report offer a blueprint to understanding the current political climate.

“American workers, once the best educated in the world, are now among the least well-educated, in the industrialized world,” Mr. Tucker said in a statement. “That has economic consequences and those economic consequences are now turning into political consequences” as voters head to the polls this presidential election year.


A study published in the Fall 2015 issue of Education Next looked closely at how American students from families with high levels of education compared with similar students from other countries.

The authors of that study, Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson, and Ludger Woessman wrote

Most affluent Americans remain optimistic about the schools in their local community. In 2011, Education Next asked a representative sample to evaluate both the nation’s schools and those in their own community. The affluent were especially dubious about the nation’s schools—only 15 percent conceded them an A or a B. Yet 54 percent gave their local schools one of the two top ratings.

Public opinion is split on how well the nation’s schools educate students of different abilities. In 2013 Education Next asked the public whether local schools did a good job of teaching talented students. Seventy-three percent said the local schools did “somewhat” or “extremely” well at the task, as compared to only 45 percent who thought that was true of their capacity to teach the less-talented.

To see whether this optimistic assessment of the nation’s ability to teach the more able student is correct, we draw upon the latest tests of student achievement and find that, as Secretary Duncan has said, the nation’s “educational shortcomings” are not just the problems of the other person’s child.

For more, please read “U.S. Students from Educated Families Lag in International Tests.”

— Education Next

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