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Are American Parents Too Dumb to Help With Homework?

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Panicked over how poorly American kids do on international math, science and reading exams, the U.S. completely overhauled how and what kids should be taught in the classroom. Called Common Core, the new set of standards will supposedly graduate kids who can think more deeply and solve problems with confidence.

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But in smartening up American kids, the policymakers may have overlooked an important factor: parents. Why? Because on international tests for teens and adults, American adults are, at most, barely average. You have to ask yourself: Is it the parents' fault American kids are so, um, dumb? I mean, look at what they're not picking up at home. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development American adults between 16 and 65 years old are, a survey of 166,000 in 24 countries found, below average in reading and just basic in math. More than half of the countries—places like Japan, Finland, Australia and Canada—scored higher than the U.S. in every category.

In terms of literacy, Americans scored much, much lower than the highest scorers: Japan and Finland. The good news is that American adults did better in literacy than the French, Italians and Spanish. But the U.S. ranked below France in the ability to use numbers to make sense of the world—the average test score was third from the bottom (that was Spain) on the not-so-difficult chore of figuring out mileage reimbursement and expiration dates on food.

We can produce a Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, but I guess that was just dumb luck?

While Americans are whizzes on Twitter and Facebook, using computers to actually solve problems was not something we do better than most of the rest of the world. In fact, American test-takers scored below average on that, too. We can produce a Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, but I guess that was just dumb luck?

How did we get here? It sure seems like a bit of a cycle. Many below average and average parents are contributing to their kids' education just as much as they've got, which is not much. We could easily blame the uneducated in our midst, but be honest: How many times have you been in that situation where splitting the tab or even just calculating the tip taxes the brains of a group of college graduates? I know people who bemoan that their kids hate to read when, actually, the parents feel the same way. I've worked with professionals who don't know the difference between Idaho and Iowa. Sure, there's an app for all of that, but is that good enough?

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I don't want to say not knowing those things makes you dumb. But if you can't figure out what 40 percent off is? Or whether 18 percent is an outrageously high interest rate costing you hundreds on your credit cards every month? Or the general hemispheres in which the countries where the U.S. is sending soldiers are located? There's a decent change your kid won't be able to figure those things out, either.

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