America’s young people are falling behind globally

by Ryan Streeter on October 11, 2013. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

The recent OECD study on skills differences among developed countries has gotten quite a bit of play.

The following passage stood out to me, as it suggests that skills development among younger Americans is slowing – either on its own or relative to the skills growth in other countries:

The Survey of Adult Skills results show how effective countries have been in developing literacy skills through successive generations. The gains made in some countries illustrate the pace of progress that is achievable. For example, Korea is among the three lowest-performing countries when comparing the skills proficiency of 55-65 year-olds; however, when comparing proficiency among 16-24 year-olds, Korea ranks second only to Japan. Similarly, older Finns perform at around the average among the countries taking part in the Survey of Adult Skills while younger Finns are, together with young adults from Japan, Korea and the Netherlands, today’s top performers…However, progress has been highly uneven across countries. In England/Northern Ireland (UK) and the United States, the improvements between younger and older generations are barely apparent. Young people in these countries are entering a much more demanding labour market, yet they are not much better prepared than those who are retiring. England/Northern Ireland (UK) is among the three highest-performing countries in literacy when comparing 55-65 year-olds; but England/Northern Ireland (UK) is among the bottom three countries when comparing literacy proficiency among 16-24 year-olds. In numeracy, the United States performs around the average when comparing the proficiency of 55-65 year-olds, but is lowest in numeracy among all participating countries when comparing proficiency among 16-24 year-olds. This is not necessarily because performance has declined in England/Northern Ireland (UK) or the United States, but because it has risen so much faster in so many other countries across successive generations. (emphasis added)