Robert Pondiscio recently blogged on this report AMERICA’S SKILLS CHALLENGE: Millennials and the Future.
Both are worth reading.
Basically, just about anyway you cut it, America’s millennial (ages 16-34) do worse than most OECD countries on skills tests; specifically:
1. As a nation, we do worse as a whole when compared to other OECD nations.
2. Our best millennials do worse than the best millennial of other nations.
3. Our lowest performing millennials do worse than the lowest performing millennials of other nations.
4. Our native born millennials do worse than the native born millennials of other nations.
5. Our gaps between highest and lowest performing millennials are amongst the highest in the OECD.
6. Perhaps most distressing, this generation is performing worse than previous American generations.
7. Also, we spend more on education than just about any nation in the world.
The Link Between Test Performance and Economic Growth
America has always done mediocre on international assessments, yet we’re the richest large nation in the world. Clearly, some combination of our culture, policies, and resources continue to deliver significant wealth.
Of course, this is not a controlled experiment. Perhaps if we were betted educated we’d be even richer. And perhaps our other competitive advantages will erode due to globalization and technology.
In a World of Limited Resources, Where Do You Invest?
Even if you believe that raising academic achievement would increase economic growth, this does not mean that raising academic achievement is the most efficient way to increase economic growth.
For example, if you had a billion dollars to give, you might spend it on immigration reform rather than education, with the idea that more immigrants = more entrepreneurs = more wealth creating companies.
Just because you identify a problem, it doesn’t mean that it’s the problem you should be devoting marginal resources to solving.
In this sense, you could argue that we should be cutting spending from education (since we are paying so much for such mediocre outcomes) and put the funds in areas that are more likely to deliver better societal outcomes.
If You Want to Make Things Better, What Do You Do?
Regardless of where you invest or cut marginal resources, we’re still going to be delivering publicly funded education, so it’s definitely worth trying to make it better. Over the past few years, I’ve been fairly consistent in my recommendations for improving American education: (1) devolve operational control of schools to non-profits (2) increase selectivity and training of new teachers (3) make long-term bets on technology (4) restructure grades 11-16 to better transition students into gainful employment (5) increase wage subsidies and the EITC to reduce poverty.
That being said, there will always be a ceiling to what education reform and poverty alleviation can accomplish.
Ultimately, we cannot outperform who we are. We study less than the top Asian nations. And we kill each other more often than most European nations.
But there is also this:
Nearly all of the top 10 companies in the world (measured by market value) are located in the United States.
Somethings we do well.
Which begs two questions:
Will we continue to do well what we currently do well?
Or will our weak academic outcomes catch-up with us?
It’s difficult to tell.