PIAAC Helps Tell the Story
Word is beginning to spread among researchers and writers in a variety of fields about the wealth of data that PIAAC provides. Below we highlight two recent articles that draw on the PIAAC data to underline the argument about the importance of high skills in the United States.
In Skills, Education, and the Rise of Earnings Inequality Among the “Other 99 Percent,”
labor economist David Autor identifies PIAAC as “a compelling data source for gauging the importance of skills in wage determination.” His research paper, published as part of a Science
Magazine special issue on the Science of Inequality (May 23, 2014), provides a close examination of the wage premium for higher skills, documenting how rising inequality among the 99 percent is a function of this skills premium. Between 1979 and 2012, the earnings gap between a college-educated two-earner husband-wife family and a high school-educated two-earner husband-wife family nearly doubled—from $30,298 to $58,249—in response to an increase in demand for higher skills and a decrease in the supply of workers with postsecondary and professional degrees (p. 848).
The growth in the wage premium is not just a good news story, however, as Autor points out:
"Although the substantial college wage premium conveys the positive economic news that educational investments offer large returns, this wage premium also masks a discouraging truth: The rising relative earnings of workers with post-secondary education is not simply due to rising real earnings among college-educated workers but is also due to falling real earnings among non–college-educated workers."
(p. 849, emphasis provided)
Autor finds that in the three decades between 1980 and 2012:
"‘real hourly earnings’ of males with high school or lower educational levels declined substantially, falling by 22% among high school dropouts and 11% among high school graduates.
…Accompanying the fall in real wages among less educated workers has been a pronounced drop in their labor force participation rates, particularly among less educated males. Between 1979 and 2007, prior to the onset of the Great Recession, the fraction of working-age males in paid employment fell by 12 percentage points among high school dropouts and 10 percentage points among those with exactly a high school diploma." (p. 849)
These numbers are cause for concern. To raise prosperity and reduce inequality, Autor calls for long-term public policy interventions that “cultivate the skills of successive generations, including excellent preschool through high school education, broad access to postsecondary education; and good nutrition, good public health, and high quality home environments. Such policies address inequality from two directions: (i) enabling a larger fraction of adults to attain high productivity, rewarding jobs, and a reasonable standard of living; and (ii) raising the total supply of skills available to the economy, which in turn, moderates the skill premium and reduces inequality." (p. 850)
The full article is available at the School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative website of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Economics Department: http://seii.mit.edu/research/study/skills-education-and-the-rise- of-earnings-inequality-among-the-other-99-percent/
In “Americans Think We Have the World’s Best Colleges. We Don’t” (New York Times,
June 28, 2014), Kevin Carey, Director of the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation, takes on the strongly held belief that the United States has the best postsecondary education system in the world. Carey uses PIAAC data on the numeracy skills differential between college graduates in the United States and in other PIAAC nations to underline the problems with the U.S. education system, including postsecondary education:
"Piaac (sic) suggests that the wide disparities of knowledge and skill present among American schoolchildren are not ameliorated by higher education. If anything, they are magnified. In 2000, American 15-year-olds scored slightly above the international average. Twelve years later, Americans who were about 12 years older scored below the international average. While American college graduates are far more knowledgeable than American nongraduates, creating a substantial “wage premium
” for diploma holders, they look mediocre or worse compared to their college-educated peers in other nations."
Like Autor, Carey uses this finding to call for renewed attention to improving the skills of Americans:
"This reality should worry anyone who believes—as many economists do—that America’s long-term prosperity rests in substantial part on its store of human capital. The relatively high pay of American workers will start to erode as more jobs are exposed to harsh competition in global labor markets. It will be increasingly dangerous to believe that only our K-12 schools have serious problems."
The full article is available at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/29/upshot/americans-think-we-have-the-worlds-best-colleges-we-dont.html?_r=1
Four papers using PIAAC data were commissioned by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) last year (in addition to the seven papers recently commissioned by AIR). These papers will increase our understanding of the key issues our country is facing today:
- Harry Holzer and Robert Lerman will give us a closer look at some of the economic issues that David Autor explored in his paper.
- Michael Fix and Jeanne Batalova will help us understand what PIAAC tells us about immigrants in the United States and the impact of our policies on the integration of new Americans.
- Margaret Patterson and Steve Reder will each give us a closer look at adult learning. Steve’s paper will focus on what PIAAC tells us about digital literacy among U.S. adults, and Margaret’s paper will help us understand more about adult participation in ongoing formal and informal education.
Look for more information about these papers in the next issue of The PIAAC Buzz and on the PIAAC Gateway (http://piaacgateway.com/
) this fall.
Webinar on Health-Related Issues in PIAAC
Eugene Owen, NCES’s PIAAC National Project Manager, presented during a webinar conducted for the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Southeastern/Atlantic Region, on July 16. The audience of medical librarians was given an overview of PIAAC and the 2012 results, including data about the relationship between health measures and literacy, numeracy, and computer-based problem-solving skills. A recording of the webinar can be found here
What’s New on the PIAAC Gateway:
PIAAC Data Explorer Online Training Video
In May, AIR hosted an online training session on the PIAAC Data Explorer for researchers interested in conducting analysis on PIAAC data. The training provided an overview of the data tool and instruction in how to use it to analyze PIAAC data. Researchers asked many questions and expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to learn how to use the data tool. A video of the training is available on the Gateway’s home page: http://piaacgateway.com/
(under the NCES PIAAC Data Explorer link in the center column).
Education and Skills Online
Test your PIAAC skills! A demonstration of Education and Skills Online (E&S Online) is available through the PIAAC Gateway home page
. (On the right-hand side of the page, click on the link for “Take the Test: Education and Skills Online.”) Like the PIAAC 2012 main assessment, E&S Online will measure the cognitive and non-cognitive skills of adults age 16 and older; it will also provide individual-level results that can be compared with, and benchmarked against, the national and international results of PIAAC 2012. In the United States, E&S Online will be available in English and Spanish. The full version of E&S Online will be available in early 2015.
PIAAC Data Q&A
Do you have questions about PIAAC? Do you want to know if your statistical software can be used to analyze the PIAAC data or what macros are available? We are compiling the answers to all of the technical and nontechnical questions we have received. One such question is as follows:
I am trying to clarify how the Education and Skills Online assessment can be utilized. Would geographic areas (counties) be able to get data on their region? When will it be available and will it be on a time-limited basis? Will there be any cost in establishing a specific group/region for assessment purposes?
You will find the answer to this question and others in the new Data Q&A, which will be posted to the PIAAC Gateway this fall.
On June 6, Saida Mamedova from AIR gave a presentation at the 55th Annual Adult Education Research Conference (AERC) in Harrisburgh, PA. The session provided an overview of the PIAAC 2012 results, and the available data tools. There were 20 adult education practitioners and researchers in the audience, including researchers from Scotland and Germany.
National Engagement Plan
Making Skills Everyone’s Business
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) recently released Making Skills Everyone’s Business: A Call to Transform Adult Learning in the United States,
a brief guide that is a preview of a longer report that will be released later this fall. The guide is based on a review of the performance and outcomes of state adult education practices, an assessment of states’ status on various adult education reforms, consultations with peers in other nations that have developed national strategies for improving foundation skills, a review of the literature on instructional effectiveness, review and analysis of the U.S. PIAAC 2012 data by the OECD, and a nationwide engagement process that collected input from students and stakeholders. The guide provides seven high-level strategies that communities, public and private entities, and all levels of government can adopt to achieve the shared objective of strengthening the foundation skills of our nation: (1) create joint ownership of solutions, (2) expand opportunities for adults to improve foundation skills, (3) make career pathways available and accessible in every community, (4) ensure all students have access to highly effective teachers, leaders, and programs, (5) align federal policies and programs to integrate services for adults, (6) increase the return on investment in skills training for business, industry, and labor, and (7) commit to closing the equity gap for vulnerable subpopulations. The guide can be found here: http://skylablearning.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Making-Skills-Everyones-Business.pdf
. When the full report is released, it will be available here: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ovae/pi/AdultEd/index.html
PIAAC Around the World
Summer Institute 2014: Exploring PIAAC Data - Enriching research, supporting practice • JUNE 25–27, 2014 • MONTREAL, CANADA
The 2014 summer institute organized by the Centre for Literacy in Montreal, Canada, was the third in a series of bilingual institutes (English and French) that has explored the PIAAC data and connections between PIAAC and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). More than 90 researchers, practitioners, and administrators from Canada and other countries (including the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Germany, Estonia, and Australia) attended this three-day institute.
On day one,
William Thorn, Senior Analyst in the Education Directorate of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development at the OECD, focusing on the PIAAC results, looked at the relationships between literacy proficiency and education and training over the life cycle, exploring questions such as: What are the explanations for the observed decline in literacy proficiency from the age of 30 and does education play any role in mitigating this? What is the relationship between participation in non-formal education and training and proficiency in literacy? Other presentations discussed how the design and results of international assessments influence policy and practice and how PIAAC is being used to inform policy and practice in a few participating countries. Jaleh Soroui, the PIAAC Project Manager at AIR, presented on the extensive dissemination effort in the United States led by AIR, NCES, and OCTAE.
On day two,
three presenters focused on PIAAC numeracy, including the possibilities of using the PIAAC numeracy framework to design mathematics instruction, the impact of low numeracy on the workplace, and the connection between the PISA mathematical literacy and PIAAC numeracy results, making a strong case for better quality math instruction. In addition, participants heard from the Canadian PIAAC research teams that are studying PIAAC data at the provincial level in Canada. The themes currently being studied include Aboriginal peoples, labor markets, minority language communities, immigrants, and health and social dimensions. Steve Reder from Portland University provided the results of his study that is based on Canadian PIAAC data on low-skilled readers—adults performing at level 1 and below.
Other highlights of the institute during day 2-3 included a presentation on “Upskill,” sharing positive outcomes and measurable gains from essential skills training for workers and participating firms in the hospitality industry.
Overall, the 2014 summer institute provided a content-rich, engaging, and thought-provoking three-day institute focusing on the impact of the results from PIAAC and other surveys on the policy and practices of adult education and learning.