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National Data | The Stupid American? Look again.
<!-- Start of Article --> Psssst: Have you heard? We've lost our competitive edge. Historically the U.S. economy excelled because of the skills and smarts of our workers. But no longer. America's workforce increasingly lags that of other countries in math and literacy skills. We need their brainpower! At first glance, this assertion seems plausible. Math literacy scores for 15-year old students in the U.S. ranked in the lower half of 41 countries studied in 2003. [ECONOMIC IMPACT: Education statistics don't bode well for our future, By Chris Chmura, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Dec 19, 2005] U.S. adults ranked 12th among 20 high income countries in composite (document, prose, and quantitative) literacy, according to a separate report released by the Educational Testing Service. A staggering 45 percent of adult Americans cannot read or write at the high school graduate level—and nearly half of those (20 percent) scored at a literacy level below that of a high school dropout. [Educational Testing Service, "The Twin Challenges of Mediocrity and Inequality," February 2002] International rankings can be misleading, however—especially when many of the countries are small and exhibit little variation in average test scores. Thus, despite our mediocre ranking, the mean literacy test score for U.S. adults (272) was 2 points above the mean for all adults in the 20 country survey (270). The 2 point gap is not statistically significant…...but we'll take it. Larger, statistically significant, literacy gaps between us and them unfold when you separate immigrant from native-born test takers, as is done in 17 high income countries surveyed by ETS. [Table 1]
- U.S. natives scored 8 points above the average native of the 17 high income countries
- U.S. immigrants scored 16 points below the average immigrant in the 17 countries
- U.S.: immigrants 210; natives 284; 74 points, or 35 percent
- 17 countries: immigrants 226; natives 276; 50 points, or 22 percent
- U.S.: immigrant dropouts 149; native dropouts 225; 76 points, or 51 percent
- 17 countries: immigrant dropouts 177; native dropouts 243; 66 points, or 37 percent