Certain kinds of issues, though exceptionally definitional and useful, inevitably get relegated to the back pages of the newspaper. Research data in its initial stages doesn’t get near the front pages unless it’s about popular conflicts, related to widely held concerns and fails to challenge blameworthy voters. For example, the data supporting the notion that parental support of their kids’ education may be the most significant factor in personal success took a long time to get to the front pages. Maybe that was just repression, denial or ignorance. Obviously, the red meat about poor teaching, corrupt unions and government failure is a lot more interesting, though often irrelevant.
So research that reveals that American adults are, at best, in the middle of the pack of nations when it comes to problem solving in technology-rich environments is relegated to page 11 in the New York Times and page 7 in my local Minneapolis Star Tribune. If you’re an astute HR person, senior exec in one of our better companies or young parent, the information just might be very useful. At the least it would tell you what to focus on in recruiting for better decision-makers and what to do about your kids' education.After all, you can’t problem solve very well until a problem is well-defined. And it could make you very cautious about the quality of employee intuition and their ready inferential, opinion-based chatter. After all, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out years ago, you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.
The comparative research was based on new tests developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a coalition of mostly developed nations. The tests focused on literacy, facility with basic math—numeracy—and problem solving in “technology-rich environments.”
Japan ranked first in all three fields with Finland second in average scores with the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway near the top. And Spain, Italy and France near the bottom. Just 9% of Americans scored in the top two of the five proficiencies. The biggest lag in Americans was among younger people. Among 55-to-65 year olds, the US fared better than its counterparts. Among 45-to-54 year-olds performance was average. Once more: the performance was most behind among younger people.
Why is the US so
If you feel defensive about these stats, you’re probably asking why, if we’re so dumb, are we so rich? Anthony Carnevale at the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workplace said that the answer is four-fold: higher skill levels at the top, being big, being more flexible than other economies, and being able to attract other countries’ most skilled laborers. “But that advantage is slipping.”
This really, really needs to be on the front page to stir up the hoi polloi, get the politicians focused clearly and get the public going on the necessary changes. That is, if we can look beyond the end of our noses.
Flickr photo: fishbel