kitchen table math, the sequel: 2/15/15 - 2/22/15

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Speaking of millennials

Which I was ....

Education Week reports that a new set of dismal international comparisons--of millenials, this time--is coming out next week. I can't tell whether the test is good, but, then again, I'd just as soon U.S. high school graduates not score lower than high school graduates in every country except France no matter how possibly lousy the test.



Here are 3 sample math questions.

Down the rabbit hole:
It's far from the first study to suggest American students are falling behind their international peers. But the analysis of U.S. millennials—those born after 1980, ages 16 to 34 during the study—specifically highlights that the skills gap goes beyond young people who are typically seen as more "at-risk," like immigrants and high school dropouts.


The ETS study, to be released this week, compares millennials in 22 industrialized countries, including the United States, who took part in the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, or PIAAC, in 2012, the last time it was given. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which runs the school-based Program for International Student Assessment, also runs the PIAAC, which is given directly to adults in their homes. Unlike the PISA, which measures academic content skills, the PIAAC measures practical, career-oriented literacy and numeracy skills, and, as of 2012, "problem-solving in technology-rich environments."


Across the board, young Americans fared poorly compared to those in the other countries studied. They tied for last, with Italy and Spain, in math skills. In problem-solving, they again performed at the bottom of the pack, with Ireland, Poland, and the Slovak Republic. U.S. millennials also had lower literacy scores than peers in 15 out of 22 countries, tied with a few, and outperformed only peers in Italy and Spain.


. . . the skills gaps persisted among students who are least likely to be considered academically at risk. Those who performed in the top 10 percent of all Americans in their age group still performed worse than the top performers in 15 other countries, including Germany and the Republic of Korea.

While a higher proportion of U.S. millennials versus those in other countries had earned a college degree, those with a four-year degree in the United States still showed lower math skills than those with college degrees in any country studied but Poland and Spain.* Moreover, the percentages of Americans who demonstrated the lowest-level math skills increased from 2003 to 2012, regardless of what level of education they had achieved.


Even those with a master's or doctoral degree demonstrated lower numeracy skills than their counterparts in all but a few countries. The average U.S. math score for millennials with a postbaccalaureate degree, 308, was not only below the average for countries studied who are in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but was below the average score for young adults with just a bachelor's degree in several countries, and near the score for top-performing students with less than a bachelor's degree in a few countries.


American millennials with a high school diploma or less performed lower than those with a secondary credential in every country but France.


. . . in the United States, native-born millennials showed a greater decline in skills from the 2003 to 2012 cohorts than did their immigrant peers.


Racial and ethnic performance gaps continued, with 12 percent of white and Asian young adults in America showing advanced levels of math skill, versus only 3 percent of Hispanic and 1 percent of black millennials. Yet on average, OECD countries had about 15 percent of all millennials performing at an advanced level, and white and Asian students in the United States performed below their counterparts in most other countries studied.

From the department of unintentional irony:
While a higher proportion of U.S. millennials versus those in other countries had earned a college degree, those with a four-year degree in the United States still showed lower math skills than those with college degrees in any country studied but Poland and Spain.
If a higher proportion of U.S. millennials finish college, then you would expect college-educated U.S. millennials as a group to have a lower average math score than college-educated millennials elsewhere. [Copy edit courtesy of Glen]

I wonder how the numeracy skills of U.S. education reporters stack up compared to those of education reporters in France and Spain.

Parents should pay attention to the Fed

Since the crash, I've become a Fed watcher.

I don't like what I see.

I'd been thinking for a while now that I want to start alerting ktm readers to the Fed's importance in our children's lives, but that idea, along with a hundred other things I've been thinking I want to do, has been languishing in the want-to-do queue.

Then this afternoon a quick trip to Marcus Nunes' historinhas blog spurred me to action.

So here it is.

Compare and contrast:
Many Fed officials want to start raising short-term interest rates before the economy reaches a point of full employment.

Nobody Knows Nairu, and That’s a Problem for the Fed By JON HILSENRATH | WSJ | 2/13/2015

This, too:

The reason Fed officials want to raise rates before everyone who is looking for a job finds one is that the Federal Reserve "fights inflation" by keeping people out of work. Keeping people out of work keeps wages down, et voilĂ . Inflation fought.

By law, of course, the Federal Reserve is required to promote "maximum employment."

But the Federal Reserve has never promoted "maximum employment" in the sense of full employment, "full" being the proper synonym for "maximum."

Instead, members of the FOMC interpret "maximum" to mean 'whatever we say it means.' Typically, they see maximum employment as being 5% unemployment. That's 5% at a minimum, mind you. Their estimates of the proper level of joblessness have ranged as high as >6%.

If members of the FOMC see unemployment falling below 5%, they "tighten."

Tightening works 100% of the time. The Federal Reserve can always, without fail, stop growth in employment.

How do Fed officials decide how low is too low?

Beats me.

They don't appear to consult history (the U.S. had full employment with stable inflation in the 1960s); they don't appear to consult the experience of other nations (Japan's unemployment rate has fallen to 3.5% and we're still reading tragic stories about low inflation there); and they seem to have learned nothing from the fact that their past opinions re:maximum employment have been wrong time and time again. (Have they ever been right?)

They do what they do.

That is the long and the short of it: the Federal Reserve fights inflation by fighting full employment. That is why parents need to pay attention.

Just to be clear, I'm not talking about the employment-to-population ratio, which is abysmal, though a lot better than it was. (77.2% for workers aged 25-54, compared to 79.2% before the crash. The low point since the crash was 74.9% in 2011.)

I'm talking about unemployed people who want to be employed and are looking for work.

The Federal Reserve consciously and intentionally sets policy to ensure that 5% of those looking for work won't find it.

The Wage Growth Gap for Recent College Grads

The Fed's desire to "normalize" policy before we reach full employment bodes ill for the earning potential of millenials:
Median starting wages of recent college graduates have not kept pace with median earnings for all workers over the past six years. This type of gap in wage growth also appeared after the 2001 recession and closed only late in the subsequent labor market recovery. However the wage gap in the current recovery is substantially larger and has lasted longer than in the past. The larger gap represents slow growth in starting salaries for graduates, rather than a shift in types of jobs, and reflects continued weakness in the demand for labor overall.
Be sure to check out the charts.

On a related subject, a while back I mentioned that I'd been wondering why it is that, when I was a child, my father, a farmer in central Illinois, could raise four children and send us all to college on one income.

Now I know the answer to that question.

Two words: policy elites.

More on this anon.

UPDATE: Just saw this.
The Federal Reserve is not sounding like an institution that is ready to raise its benchmark interest rate in June.

Fed Appears to Hesitate on Raising Interest Rate