by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
If you were born after 1980, you’re a “millennial.” And if you are a millennial, you’re going to ruin America.
As a Generation X “slacker,” I know to take these generational generalizations with a grain of salt. But I have to admit that the performance of a representative sample of American millennials on the PS-TRE, an international test of literacy, numeracy, and problem solving, is pretty embarrassing.
In “America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future,” researchers from Educational Testing Service (ETS) concluded, “Millennials may be on track to be our most educated generation ever, but they consistently score below many of their international peers in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments (PS-TRE).” Yikes!
Below is the “meat” of the executive summary (emphases added). Read it and weep.
How do the average scores of U.S. millennials compare with those in other participating countries?
- In literacy, U.S. millennials scored lower than 15 of the 22 participating countries. Only millennials in Spain and Italy had lower scores.
- In numeracy, U.S. millennials ranked last, along with Italy and Spain.
- In PS-TRE, U.S. millennials also ranked last, along with the Slovak Republic, Ireland, and Poland.
- The youngest segment of the U.S. millennial cohort (16- to 24-year-olds), who could be in the labor force for the next 50 years, ranked last in numeracy along with Italy and among the bottom countries in PS-TRE. In literacy, they scored higher than their peers in Italy and Spain.
How do U.S. top-performing and lower-performing millennials compare to their international peers? What is the degree of inequality in the score distribution?
- Top-scoring U.S. millennials (those at the 90th percentile) scored lower than top-scoring millennials in 15 of the 22 participating countries, and only scored higher than their peers in Spain.
- Low-scoring U.S. millennials (those at the 10th percentile) ranked last along with Italy and England/Northern Ireland and scored lower than millennials in 19 participating countries.
- The gap in scores (139 points) between U.S. millennials at the 90th and 10th percentiles was higher than the gap in 14 of the participating countries and was not significantly different than the gap in the remaining countries, signaling a high degree of inequality in the distribution of scores.
How do millennials with different levels of educational attainment perform over time and in relation to their peers internationally?
- Although a greater percentage of young adults in the U.S. are attaining higher levels of education since 2003, the numeracy scores of U.S. millennials whose highest level of education is high school and above high school have declined.
- Since 2003, the percentages of U.S. millennials scoring below level 3 in numeracy (the minimum standard) increased at all levels of educational attainment.
- U.S. millennials with a four-year bachelor’s degree scored higher in numeracy than their counterparts in only two countries: Poland and Spain.
- The scores of U.S. millennials whose highest level of educational attainment was either less than high school or high school were lower than those of their counterparts in almost every other participating country.
- Our best-educated millennials—those with a master’s or research degree—only scored higher than their peers in Ireland, Poland, and Spain.
What impact do demographic characteristics have on the performance of U.S. millennials?
- Among all countries, there was a strong relationship between parental levels of educational attainment and skills; across all levels of parental educational attainment, there was no country where millennials scored lower than those in the United States.
- The gap in scores between U.S. millennials with the highest level of parental educational attainment and those with the lowest was among the largest of the participating countries.
- In most countries, native-born millennials scored higher than foreign-born millennials; however, native-born U.S. millennials did not perform higher than their peers in any other country.
Certainly, our public schools are part of the reason for millennials’ poor showing but they are certainly not the only cause. Perhaps it is time for a national “come to Jesus” moment.