Results from the World Cup of Literacy were released early this morning by the OECD. Interestingly, OECD’s news release focuses on income inequality in the lede, noting that [c]ountries with greater inequality in skills proficiency also have higher income inequality.” Perhaps this will grab the attention of economists and other commentators who are concerned about growing income inequality in the U.S.
Megan Rogers, writing for Inside Higher Ed, notes that the while the U.S. comes out higher than average in terms of educational attainment, it ranks below average in basic literacy and numeracy skills. She writes that the report also found that socioeconomic background has a stronger impact on proficiency levels in the U.S. than in other countries.
Another difference: according to Rogers, the survey found that participation in adult education and training is more common in the United States than in other countries.
Nonetheless, Joanne Kantner, dean of adult education and transition programs at Kishwaukee College in Illinois tells Rogers that “this isn’t an adult education problem, a math education problem, a developmental education problem or a work place issue. The math adults need is not determined by adult education. It’s determined by the work place.” I have no idea what this means. But it’s early.
Rogers also cites at least one critic of the study: Grover Whitehurst, director at the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institute. Well, not a critic exactly—he just doesn’t think the results are all that much to get worked up about, pointing to the small number of participating countries and the small U.S. sample size (5,000 adults were surveyed). He acknowledges, however, that the results are consistent with previous findings on adult literacy.
Finally, Rogers quotes David S. Baime, senior vice president for government relations and research at the American Association of Community Colleges, who says that community colleges “have an essential role in redressing this situation,” but bemoans the lack of a “meaningful or effective national policy for adult education.” This goes to the point I was trying to make last night. Participation in the PIAAC study, which has been going on for several years now, presented an opportunity for the Obama administration to develop a stronger, more effective strategy for addressing adult literacy in anticipation of the release of the survey results today. The Secretary of Education is commenting on the study this morning at 10:35 during NBC’s fourth annual “Education Nation Summit.” His initial comments will tell us a lot about whether a more effective national policy for adult education is in the works. Will the Secretary present a new proposal to address adult education today, or merely use this as opportunity to restate the administration’s already existing education policy priorities?