In a country known better for its love of football than of fútbol, the 2014 World Cup has been a ratings smash. And although Team USA’s run may have come to an end yesterday, many are hailing this World Cup as a big win for US soccer. The first three US games against Ghana, Portugal and Germany have become the top three most-viewed soccer matches in US history. The stats are not yet in for yesterday’s game against Belgium, but if the crowds gathered and offices shuttered are any indication, you can bet that the highly anticipated qualifying match also garnered a historic viewership.
Many different theories have circulated to explain Americans’ increasing interest in the world’s most popular sport, but perhaps Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber best summed it up when he said, as quoted by the New York Times, “The country has changed. This is a new America.”
This new American generation, let’s call them the Mundial-enials, is one that has grown up viewing and playing the “beautiful game” at far greater rates than their predecessors. They are also more Hispanic than previous generations, in some cases sharing a love of soccer with their countries of heritage. World Cup ratings have been boosted in part by young and Hispanic (and often both) soccer enthusiasts in the US reflecting national demographic trends that have implications beyond competitive sports and TV ratings.
Nearly one in four K-12 students in the US is Hispanic; this up from about 10% just 30 years ago. America has changed, but has the US education system changed for the Mundial-enials?
Yes and no. There is much to celebrate, but enduring achievement gaps take a bite out of recent progress (pun intended). The latest national assessments indicate that far fewer Hispanic students meet basic standards in math and reading than their non-Hispanic White classmates. While 46% of White 8th graders are proficient in reading, only 22% of Hispanic students are. Similarly, only 21% of Hispanic 8th graders make the cut in math, while 45% of White students are proficient. Scores continue to rise, but much work remains to close these gaps.
Recently, high school graduation rates in the US rose above 80%, a historic high lauded in newspaper headlines and even the State of the Union address. This achievement was in large part due to huge gains among Hispanic students who now graduate at a rate 15 percentage points higher than in 2006. Still, fewer of them earn diplomas than their non-Hispanic White peers: 76% of Hispanic students graduate as compared to 85% of White students.
College enrollment among Hispanic students has risen with high school graduation rates making them the largest minority group on US campuses. Low levels of college completion, however, undercut this milestone. In 2013, while over one third of all people (and more than 40% of non-Hispanic Whites) between the ages of 24 and 29 had a bachelor’s degree or higher, less than 16% of Hispanics had attained that level of education.
Team USA may have defied expectations in the World Cup, but when compared to other countries in education, its performance is underwhelming. The US ranks in the middle of the pack on international exams. In a country that rarely settles for less than exceptional, progress in education for all students must be accelerated so that the “new America” will be able to compete on any world stage.