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Why are Americans dumber than average at math & literacy?

GMTplus7GMTplus7 Registered User Posts: 14,567 Senior Member
edited October 2013 in Parents Forum
The 2013 OECD Skills Outlook Report shows that not only can Johnny not read, but neither can his parents. His grandparents, on the other hand, have a clue.
Americans are Dumber Than Average at Math, Vocabulary, and Technology - Roberto A. Ferdman - The Atlantic
Americans rank well below the worldwide average in just about every measure of skill. In math, reading, and technology-driven problem-solving, the United States performed worse than nearly every other country in the group of developed nations.

Interesting though, that American seniors (age 55-65) rank the highest in the world in their age group, for problem-solving proficiency.

What happened since our grandparents went to school???
Post edited by GMTplus7 on

Replies to: Why are Americans dumber than average at math & literacy?

  • ANNE1389ANNE1389 Registered User Posts: 220 Junior Member
    They change the curriculum every few years to make it better. They introduce tests that have to be passed and the kids get short changed in real world skills. I am glad three of my kids are now beyond having to be subjected to Common Core math. I have been through 4 huge curriculum overhauls since my oldest (now a senior) started school. Each one was rolled out telling us how it addressed the weakness in the previous program. I think we need to go back to the basics. Although higher level thinking needs to be addressed, there is a place for rote facts as well.
  • xiggixiggi Registered User Posts: 25,432 Senior Member
    What happened?

    The country abdicated its right to manage and control education to the service providers, or better stated, to their corrupt leadership. Over the past six decades, there has been a slow decrease in performance and a rapid decrease in qualification and training of teachers. And a continuous stream of excuses.

    After fifty years of extorting more benefits, shorter workdays, and fighting performance assessments and all forms of open competition, all you have is the dysfunctional system of public education we have.

    Just as we deserve the government we elect, we deserve such system because of our apathy and our romantic view of the local school.
  • frugaldoctorfrugaldoctor Registered User Posts: 1,140 Senior Member
    Xiggi, other countries have corruption too. Part of the question should be whether we are comparing the same students. In most countries, students are separated into different academic tracks. I always wonder if we are comparing our average student population with other countries' selective student population. Also, exam scores don't always correspond with creativity. So while the scores differ, who which society reallu benefits.
  • collegedad2013collegedad2013 - Posts: 241 Junior Member
    No surprise.
    The pendulum has swung to the extreme of where we value feelings more than the education.
    "Everyone gets a participation trophy!"
    "Let's not grade papers using red ink since that will make some people feel bad about their poor performance."
    Hopefully the pendulum will get back to the middle soon.
  • Vot123Vot123 Registered User Posts: 306 Member
    All good points, and perhaps the prevailing culture needs to be evaluated as well. There are so many ways to consume popular media these days and available 24/7. Wouldn't be surprised that this probably also contributes to less time and energy devoted to developing math, thinking and reading skills. You can't grow your skills if you spend a good deal of your free time just sitting back passively consuming music videos, video games and engaging in hulu-marathons of one's particular favorite tv show du jour to either wind down or procrastinate.

    But I agree with frugaldoctor--whatever happened to the vocational vs academic tracks in this country? It is assumed that everyone's goal should be college, no matter the background or ability to pay or even academic proficiency. I wonder now if the non-US data was collected from already "cherry-picked" academic track students vs the US method of throwing everyone in together. I only skimmed the actual report so can't say for sure where they went fishing the data pool to get these results.
  • sosomenzasosomenza - Posts: 2,122 Senior Member
    These studies are worthless without a truly random sample of each countries population. Such methodology is cost prohibitive so the researchers have to rely on the individual countries to provide the sampling. When the country becomes involved, nationalistic pride likely takes over and the randomness of the sample is degraded. The below shows a bit of the tinkering from the individual countries.

    Page 28. of report
    Sample sizes depended primarily on the number of cognitive domains assessed and the number of languages in which the assessment was administered. Some countries boosted sample sizes in order to have reliable estimates of proficiency for the residents of particular geographical regions and/or for certain sub-groups of the
    population such as indigenous inhabitants or immigrants. The achieved samples ranged from a minimum of approximately 4 500 to a maximum of nearly 27 300.
  • austinareadadaustinareadad Registered User Posts: 671 Member
    Teacher pay in the US has always been relatively low, but it used to be that a great many bright young women did not have better alternatives and so they became school teachers. Now, such young women have other, more lucrative alternatives available to them and fewer are choosing to become teachers.

    That may explain some of it.
  • VladenschlutteVladenschlutte Registered User Posts: 4,329 Senior Member
    I think it's funny to think about education being poor in the US, since we are the 3rd most productive nation per hour worked in the world (only two that are ahead are Luxembourg and Norway, combined population of these two countries is under 6 million, so we might as well try to compare it to New York City). You might argue that we are more resource rich (and specifically, "land rich") than countries like Belgium and Netherlands which are not far below us in productivity, so you can't necessarily say that our people are more productive than them, but however you look at it we have among the most productive workforce in the world. Since the reason we have public education is to increase productivity, I don't think our education is failing us.

    List of countries by GDP (PPP) per hour worked - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • mom2collegekidsmom2collegekids Registered User Posts: 82,596 Senior Member
    math education at the K-12 levels can be very poor in this country.
  • SlackerMomMDSlackerMomMD Registered User Posts: 3,094 Senior Member
    "What happened since our grandparents went to school??? "
    New Math/Open Classrooms
    "Rising Tide of Mediocrity"
    “Three C’s” (Content, Character, and Choice)
    "Goals 2000"
    "No Child Left Behind"
    Common Core
  • MaineLonghornMaineLonghorn Super Moderator Posts: 31,657 Super Moderator
    "Everyday Math." Ack. I got a note from my daughter's second grade teacher that asked parents NOT to show their kids how to do subtraction the way they learned it as children. I looked at the "new" way of doing it and gagged! Long-division was similar. I was a rebel and taught my kids how to do these operations simply. I also drilled them in their times tables. They considered me a mean mom until they got to high school and told me the teachers were having to spend time getting most of the students up to speed in the basics.
  • gouf78gouf78 Registered User Posts: 5,793 Senior Member
    Yeah, I taught math to my kids too. Pays to be "the mean mom".
    And the "self-esteem" thing was a bit out of hand. Only circling SOME errors on a written page is only confusing. Too many arguments with D about papers--she just had glaring errors in grammar sometimes that teacher didn't mark wrong while marking others. You can't learn that way.
    Eventually in HS she had a teacher who was strict on those things and yes, the first papers returned for re-write circled with EVERYTHING wrong was an eye-opener. But she learned quickly and still talks about how great that teacher was.
    She had other teachers who couldn't teach their way out of a paper bag...and the school couldn't get rid of them.
  • MaineLonghornMaineLonghorn Super Moderator Posts: 31,657 Super Moderator
    I noticed that most teachers didn't put a check mark next to correct answers and "X" next to wrong ones. Correct answers were marked "C" and incorrect ones were not marked at all.
  • turtletimeturtletime Registered User Posts: 853 Member
    I believe it's largely due to cultural shifts. When you look at the countries outscoring us, it's not just the school system that is different. The kids they we are sending to school are different too.

    We are a culture that is in large, afraid of our children. We know when kids are skipping school and yet no one at the mall says "hey, shouldn't you be in class?" We go to the movies and put up with rowdy teens ruining our experience because no adult wants to turn around and tell them to shut-up. We shield them from truths that hurt. We tell them they are exceptional when they are average. We shun the truly exceptional as freaks and geeks. How many high school productions have you seen where the leads are off-key and yet STILL get a standing ovation? Should we applaud the effort and work despite lack of ability? Absolutely! Should we be telling these off-pitch kids you can't wait to see them on Broadway? Nope (and yet I hear it constantly.) A recent study tested kids in math all over the world and then asked them how they felt before getting their results. American teens felt the best about their performance despite actually getting the lowest scores.

    Kids now have a ton of school and activity responsibility but very little responsibility to the family or their community. Getting work is hard enough for adults. Teen jobs are disappearing. The push for everyone to go to college with the promise of better jobs creates a society of "managers" and often, these kids feel "too good" for the entry level jobs they might be able to snag (and in some ways, you don't blame them when they are sitting on 40 grand in school debt and the prospect to 10 dollars an hour.)

    Why would we be surprised that our elderly are better problem solvers? Our elderly lived in a time where kids were expected to solve their own problems. They were expected to show respect and deal with teachers they didn't like. They weren't shuttled from one supervised activity to another with hardly a minute to get into trouble (and thus, figure out how to get out of trouble.) They often had to figure out how to pay for the things they wanted... how to get to the places they wanted to be. Were their lives perfect? No.. but there were certain things they did better.

    Are these generalizations? You bet! There are lots of great American kids and parents! However, generalizations stem from truths that we've all seen in our society. I suspect we all have our guilty moments too. I certainly do. I catch myself doing the kids chores because "they are too busy." I catch myself stressing over getting them the latest gadget and then having to remind myself that they don't need it and if they want it, they can work to get it... that I'm robbing them of that great feeling of working hard and finally being able to plunk down that money for a beloved item. I catch myself blaming exterior forces when my kids mess up before really exploring whether it was, in fact, my own child that screwed up (and sometimes, it is... sometimes they make bad choices and yes, it's sometimes a fight for me to step back and let them take their lumps instead of "mama bearing" up.) No, certainly not a model parent here but I recognize that there is a very real connection between how we parent in the U.S. and how our kids are doing in school.
  • SlackerMomMDSlackerMomMD Registered User Posts: 3,094 Senior Member
    MaineLonghorn, D told me that her pre-calc teacher said to the class THIS WEEK - "you guys probably don't know how to do long division". She went on to teach the kids how to do long division. Oddly enough because we sent D to what people think of as a "hippie" Montessori school through 8th grade, she knew long division.
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