Thursday, March 5, 2015

American Millennials: Too Proud to Compete

It’s a lipstick-on-a-pig moment.

Those who have studied the test results have been trying, even agonizing to make them look good. No matter what they do, they still look bad. They look very bad. They look very bad for America.

One hesitates to look at the results of a test where America’s millennials competed against millennials around the world. After all, America’s millennials take severe offense if you dare suggest that they are chronic underachievers, even slackers. They have high self-esteem and do not care about how they compare with other people.

If you report that, when compared to their peers in other countries, they come in at or near the bottom, they will take serious offense and get seriously in your face.

Be that as it may, and being forearmed, I bring to your attention a story from the Washington Post. It recounts the results of a test that was given to millennials—people between the ages of 16 and 34—around the world.

Apparently, American millennials are now too proud to compete. They might console themselves with their false pride, but that’s the only consolation they can draw from these tests. Compared to their cohorts around the world, America’s millennials come is last or near-last by just about every metric.

The Post reports:

This exam, given in 23 countries, assessed the thinking abilities and workplace skills of adults. It focused on literacy, math and technological problem-solving. The goal was to figure out how prepared people are to work in a complex, modern society.

And U.S. millennials performed horribly.

That might even be an understatement, given the extent of the American shortcomings. No matter how you sliced the data – by class, by race, by education – young Americans were laggards compared to their international peers. In every subject, U.S. millennials ranked at the bottom or very close to it, according to a new study by testing company ETS.

The testers believed that American millennials would perform well. They were shocked and dismayed by the results:

U.S. millennials, defined as people 16 to 34 years old, were supposed to be different. They’re digital natives. They get it. High achievement is part of their makeup. But the ETS study found signs of trouble, with its authors warning that the nation was at a crossroads: “We can decide to accept the current levels of mediocrity and inequality or we can decide to address the skills challenge head on.”

The challenge is that, in literacy, U.S. millennials scored higher than only three countries.

In math, Americans ranked last.

In technical problem-saving, they were second from the bottom.

“Abysmal,” noted ETS researcher Madeline Goodman. “There was just no place where we performed well.”

But, what if we compare our best with their best, the best that America has to offer with the best students in other countries?

Unfortunately, the results are no better:

But surely America’s brightest were on top?

Nope. U.S. millennials with master’s degrees and doctorates did better than their peers in only three countries, Ireland, Poland and Spain. Those in Finland, Sweden and Japan seemed to be on a different planet.

Top-scoring U.S. millennials – the 90th percentile on the PIAAC test – were at the bottom internationally, ranking higher only than their peers in Spain. The bottom percentile (10th percentile) also lagged behind their peers. And the gap between America’s best and worst was greater than the gap in 14 other countries. This, the study authors said, signaled America’s high degree of inequality.

Among the take-aways is this: many American students have been given diplomas that they did not really earn. Our culture values self-esteem over achievement, unearned praise over true accomplishment:

The study called into question America’s educational credentialing system. While few American test-takers lacked a high school degree, the United States didn’t perform any better than countries with relatively high rates of failing to finish high school. And our college graduates didn’t perform well, either.

Naturally, the researchers were more than upset to see this. So they decided to check on the results of native-born Americans, especially those whose parents went to college. And they separated off the results of whites and Asian-Americans, notable world-beaters.

Unfortunately, the results were not encouraging:

ETS researchers tried looking for signs of promise – especially in math skills, which they considered a good sign of labor market success. They singled out native-born Americans. Nope. They tried native-born Americans with at least one college graduate parent – a big group when compared to other countries. That didn’t work. They looked at race – white and Asian Americans did better, but still fell behind similar top performers in other countries and below the OECD average.

The ETS study noted that a decade ago the skill level of American adults was judged mediocre. “Now it is below even that.” So Millennials are falling even further behind.

What does it all mean?

It means that the American educational establishment and the American psychological establishment, the people who dictate how we bring up children, have failed miserably.

Time to put in a call to the Tiger Mom, don’t you think?

Otherwise, you can put in a call to Alfred E. Newman and allow him to dust off his old slogan for a new generation: What, me worry?


Ares Olympus said...

As our esteemed president Bush once asked "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"

On the other hand James Schlesinger said “We have only two modes—complacency and panic."

So should we panic, and if so, will our panic make things better or worse?

So the problem is to identify the problem, while its easier to find a scapegoat, and hope a few wacks of humiliation do the trick.

Or maybe we just need to raise our standards? Or we need more testing. Or maybe we need better teachers. We need to return to rote learning and give up all the self-esteemism. We need parents to be more involved in their children's education. We need more honors classes to help challenge gifted students. Or maybe we need more support for students who fall behind? Or maybe we need less sports? Or wait, exercise helps brains develop, so add back the gym class! Or maybe we need more private schools? Or maybe we should punish schools with low achievement, cut their funding? Maybe we need to serve hungry kids breakfast? Or maybe we need to expell the trouble makers so the teachers can focus on the rest of the students. Maybe we need to restore corporal punishment to reduce wasted time on bad kids? Maybe we just need to accept kids are not equal, and use testing to decide which kids deserve to continue on to middle school or if they should give up and go into a trade?

So many possibilities. And everyone has got ideas, and schools apparently are trying a good number of them all at once, and perhaps are overwhelmed trying to do everything and doing it all poorly?

Anyway, I'm glad my state of Minnesota still seems to always do well compared to other states at least. Oh except poor blacks are still concentrated in inner city schools while whites bus their kids to better schools, darn it.

Anyway, if the Millenials are slacking, I'd put blame on our entertainment-centric culture where teachers now have to act cool and make things fun for kids to pay attention.

So if Catholic nun techniques for corporal punishment can make kids pay attention without everything being fun, I'm open for setting up some schools to do that. I'm just not sure the rich parents want that, but maybe the poor parents are desparate to believe its their kids faults for not trying hard enough.

Sam L. said...

How long have I been reading that HS grads are not prepared for college? And reports of college graduates not prepared for jobs, or even not prepared to look competently for jobs? Not to mention the inability to fire truly atrocious teachers due to union contracts?

priss rules said...

In a world this corrupt and venal, why should the millennials care?

Dennis said...

For those of us who have been screaming as loud as we can about the education system, especially public schools, this comes as no surprise. This is just another example of the failure, or the success of leftists, to educate the people who will be making the decisions of tomorrow.
We should all care, especially the Millennials, for it is their world that will be affected the most. They will feel good about themselves up to the point of realizing how much they don't know and how they were cheated out of a quality education by people who wanted them "dumbed down," so they would vote with their emotions instead of their intellect.
I see, more frequently now, Millennials who are starting to figure it out and are starting to do something about it. So I have some hope that they, instead of running away as some commenters might suggest, work to remove those who have helped to perpetuate this problem on both sides of the aisle, and understand that they can be the masters of their destiny. It is why building an understanding of the ramifications of political considerations are important and need to be developed early. Maybe even being challenged early in life to think about issues. Politics needs to be part of one's every day life because it has a very large affect on it.
Challenges and problems need to be addressed and worked towards a viable solution. It is sad that the 60's generation did little to improve the lives of those who follow. They are still involved in spending that next generation's money to feel good about themselves vice doing good.
It is not that the generation coming up does not have the wherewithal to do the work it is that they are taught by people who truly lack the skill or ability to challenge them.
As I have stated before one has to be tough on people especially if they truly care about their ability to face the exigencies of today and tomorrow. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity and I believe that the Millennials can meet the challenges if that start demanding the education they deserved vice the one that leftists institutions more intent on propaganda than education. It is their life to be the best they can be. Are they up to it?

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The core problem in our education system is we're not willing to tell the truth, because the truth may reveal uncomfortable things about our youngsters, parents, teachers, administrators, society, etc. Until we tell the truth, we will continue to have this malaise, and the Asians will kill us in every area, save creativity. And given the No Child Left Under-Tested, we may lose our advantage in that key element of economic value. Our unwillingness to say "no" -- and our fascination Iwith potential rather than industry and enterprise -- is our downfall. This will continue until someone with courage steps forward to tell the truth. This is the true misfortune that befell !Michelle Rhee, and with her the educational leaders who have the fortitude to see real reform through. This is the therapy culture writ large.

David Foster said...

I"ve never been very happy with the term "digital natives." There is no great technological knowledge involved in using an iPhone or posting on Facebook. (Indeed, someone messing around with computer games on a TRS-80 in 1983 probably developed much more knowledge of computer technology than do today's "digital natives."

I only looked at the test questions very briefly, but it struck me that ones listed under "technology" were really about the ability to follow directions and think coherently about a multistep process as they were about knowing some computer basics. I'd imagine that someone who didn't do well on these also wouldn't have done very well in an above-entry-level clerical job in 1945 or 1870.