Friday, June 20, 2014

D.C. Dumping Test Scores From Its Teacher Evaluations | By BEN NUCKOLS

WASHINGTON (AP) — The District of Columbia public school system, one of the first in the country to evaluate teachers using student test scores, announced Thursday that it would suspend the practice while students adjust to new tests based on Common Core standards.
Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced the decision, saying officials are concerned it wouldn't be fair to use the new tests until a baseline is established and any complications are worked out.
The District has fired hundreds of teachers under the system, which was put in place by Henderson's predecessor, Michelle Rhee. Test scores make up 35 percent of evaluations for those who teach students in the tested grades and subjects.
Last week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joined the two largest teachers' unions in calling for a temporary halt to evaluating teachers based on Common Core tests. The foundation has spent more than $200 million implementing the Common Core standards nationwide.
The U.S. Education Department has not backed the idea of a moratorium, which is also being considered in New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced a bill on Thursday that would remove test scores from teacher evaluations for two years, and a handful of states have delayed using test scores to make personnel decisions. But no state that already includes test scores in evaluations has committed to pausing the practice.
"Although we applaud District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) for their continued commitment to rigorous evaluation and support for their teachers, we know there are many who looked to DCPS as a pacesetter who will be disappointed with their desire to slow down," Raymonde Charles, an Education Department spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement.
President Barack Obama's administration has offered incentives to states to develop more meaningful teacher evaluation systems and to adopt college- and career-ready standards such as Common Core. That's meant that both have rolled out around the same time, creating conflict. Teachers have expressed concern about being judged on their students' performance as they are learning to teach under the new standards and the new assessments are rolled out.Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, praised Henderson's move and said she was troubled by the Education Department's response, particularly given that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has lauded District schools for their reform policies.
"The federal Department of Education should be applauding this, not thwarting it," Weingarten said. "When they're thwarting it, you wonder, 'What is that about? Is that about learning or is it about measurement for measurement's sake, or testing for testing's sake?'"
A study published last month in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis raised questions about whether evaluating teachers and making personnel decisions based on test scores had any effect on teacher quality. Some critics also believe that such high-stakes testing incentives cheating, and the District is one of several jurisdictions that have weathered cheating scandals.
Henderson said she remains committed in the long term to assessing teacher performance based in part on test scores, as the District has done since 2009. More than half of the states have incorporated test scores into evaluations, although the nation's capital has been more aggressive in firing poorly rated teachers — as well as rewarding the top performers with pay raises and bonuses.
"I don't think there's a problem with our evaluation system. I believe it does what we want it to do," Henderson said. "Our teachers have increasingly more and more faith in it. I want them to continue to have faith in it.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/19/dc-test-scores-teacher-evaluations_n_5513126.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000020&ir=Education

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Oregon shooting: 'This is becoming the norm.' But will anything change? By Ed Payne and Dana Ford

(CNN) -- The scenes are becoming depressingly familiar.
A gunman opens fire on an American campus. Students, teachers and administrators duck for cover. Parents anxiously wait for their kids to check in, praying for the phone to ring.
It played out again Tuesday at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon, a city of 16,400 people 12 miles east of Portland.
Photos: Shooting at Oregon high school
A student at the school shot and killed another student before apparently taking his own life.
The shooter had an AR-15 rifle and a brown paper bag filled with more than 20 fully-loaded magazines, as well as knives, a law enforcement source told CNN.

The victim was a 14-year-old freshman, Emilio Hoffman. Police haven't yet disclosed the shooter's identity - or, more importantly, what compelled him to carry out such a horrifying act.
The shooting, the second in a week, is the latest in a long string. An attack at Seattle Pacific University last week killed one person and wounded two others.

Speaking in Washington, President Barack Obama said the nation should be ashamed of its inability to get tougher gun restrictions through Congress in the aftermath of mass shootings that he said have become commonplace in America.
"Our levels of gun violence are off the charts. There's no advanced, developed country on Earth that would put up with this," he said.

The shooting
The shooting happened just as classes were about to get under way at Reynolds High School.
When it started, student Hannah League ducked into a classroom, where she and others huddled in a corner with no lights.
"I heard these pops and I thought they were firecrackers, but then I saw a teacher run out with his side kind of bloody," League told CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront."
According to multiple law enforcement officials, the shooter was a student at the school. He entered the building that houses the school gym.
He shot and killed Hoffman in a locker room then apparently took his own life. His body was found in a restroom.

The debate
So, what now? Will this latest instance of gun violence compel Congress to act?

The President isn't optimistic.

To read more, click on the following link:
http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/11/justice/oregon-high-school-shooting/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

Blog Finance Blogs » Retirement » Should union pensions be cut?

Congress is expected soon to consider the recommendations of a coalition of unions, pension administrators and employers supporting tough measures to save its pensions. The National Coordinating Committee on Multiemployer Plans, or NCCMP, offers several solutions to the problem of pension underfunding in its report, "Solutions not bailouts."
One of its solutions calls for drastic cuts to the benefits of current as well as future recipients.
"Find a better solution," says Karen Ferguson, director of the nonprofit Pension Rights Center. She calls the suggested cuts "draconian. ... They are saying to older people with no other resources -- many barely making it already -- 'We’re going to break the promise that you would have a secure lifetime income.' It's unconscionable."
Multiemployer pension plans require companies that employ union workers in a particular industry to contribute to the retirement plans at levels negotiated through union bargaining. When employees retire, they receive benefits from the pooled contributions. Many of the 1,510 active multiemployer old-fashioned, defined benefit pension plans covering about 10 million participants are in good shape. But some of them -- notably, some of the largest -- are deeply troubled. The Pension Rights Center estimates that 150 to 200 plans covering 1.5 million workers could run out of money in the next 20 years, according to information from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, or PBGC, the quasi-government organization that guarantees private pensions.
One pension fund facing eventual bankruptcy
The Teamsters' Central States Pension Fund is one of the largest multiemployer plans -- and one of the least solvent. The plan covers 212,000 retirees and about 65,000 current workers, and it reportedly has liabilities that are nearly double its assets. If nothing is done, Central States' Executive Director Tom Nyhan told Congress in 2010 that the fund will be bankrupt in "10 to 15 years," a retirement planningdisaster.

One solution crafted by NCCMP would cut average current pensions by at least two-thirds, Ferguson says. Her organization has posted two online calculators, and she is urging union members and their families to plug in what they currently are receiving or expect in pension benefits and see what the proposal would do to that number. A second calculator shows what would happen if the PBGC took over. Note that the PBGC guarantees multiemployer pensions at a much lower level than it guarantees single-employer pension plans.
Ferguson's organization supports other changes to the plans to improve their financial stability, including thoroughly analyzing each plan to evaluate exactly how insolvent it is and what can be done to fix that plan specifically. She's in favor of allowing more mergers among plans to cut administrative costs, and also advocates getting rid of the "13th" bonus check, an extra check that retirees get at the end of a year if the pension fund performed better than expected. They date from the time when these plans were overfunded and in some cases are still mandated.
The Pension Rights Center also suggests finding new ways to raise money, including increasing the PBGC's employer premiums and, perhaps, spending tax dollars. In its report, the center writes: "Plans are facing funding stresses in large measure because of the actions of financial institutions that caused the recession. Our country infused money into those institutions. Should consideration be given to assisting troubled pension plans that are facing problems not of their own making?"
Says Ferguson, "These are problems that can be solved over the long term. There are lots of ways to go, but cutting benefits to the already retired shouldn't be one of them."
What do you think? Is it fair to cut pensioners' benefits after they've already begun receiving them?
Read more about multiemployer plans.

The Battle to Retake Our Privacy Can Be Won By Trevor Timm

After months of inaction – and worries that real change at the National Security Agency was indefinitely stalled – there was a flurry of action in Congress this week on the most promising NSA reform bill, as  the USA Freedom Act unanimously passed out of the House Judiciary Committee and then, surprisingly, out of the Intelligence Committee, too. Only its movement came at a price: the bill is now much weaker than it was before.
What would the legislation actually do? Well, for one, it would take the giant phone records database out of the NSA's hands and put it into those of the telecom companies, and force judicial review. Importantly, it doesn't categorically make anything worse – like the House Intel bill pushed by Rep Mike Rogers would have – and it would at least end the phone records program as it exists today, while making things a little bit better for transparency.
However, anytime Rogers calls a bill "a great improvement," anyone who values privacy should be worried. The transparency section of the bill doesn't require nearly as much disclosure as it did previously, and there's no longer a full-time privacy advocate for the Fisa court in there – only the chance for outsiders to submit legal briefs. Plus, the "mandatory" declassification of Fisa court opinions now only "encourages" the executive branch to be forthcoming – a policy which the ace surveillance-law analyst Marcy Wheeler  described as follows: "it only releases opinions if Edward Snowden comes along and leaks them."
Reactions to the new bill from NSA reform supporters have been mixed. Both the  Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and  American Civil Liberties Union called it a positive step, but emphasized how much still needs to be fixed. Wheeler  was more cynical in her analysis, suggesting it may be just as bad as the Intel bill that was so universally  panned by national security watchers. But Kevin Bankston, the longtime surveillance reform crusader and policy director at the Open Tech Institute, explained the predicament well:

Some say, "How good can it be if the intel committee passed it?" I say, "This is what victory looks like." They had no choice. We beat them.
— Kevin Bankston (@KevinBankston)  May 8, 2014
The bill is also far from a done deal; it can still get improved on the floor. If tech companies are serious about forcing NSA reform, then now is the time for them to step up lobbying efforts and prove that their public comments about changing surveillance laws amount to something more than  a well orchestrated PR campaign.
But the battle to retake our privacy can't be won in the halls of Congress alone. Even the original version of the USA Freedom Act didn't do anything about the NSA's subversion of common encryption. It didn't address the stockpiling of zero-day vulnerabilities that puts internet security at risk. It didn't offer any privacy protections to 95% of the world that doesn't live in the United States. And given the NSA's unique talent for distorting the plain meaning of the English language (in fact, they seem to have created  an entirely secret, bizarro dictionary of its own), it's always possible the agency will find a way to subvert the will of the people it allegedly serves.
This is the primary reason why a host of public-interest groups  launched something called Reset the Net last week. The campaign calls for major websites and the general public to widely adopt end-to-end encryption tools to stem the ability of the NSA – or any other intelligence agency – to conduct mass surveillance, regardless of what our laws look like. The campaign will culminate on 5 June – the one-year anniversary of the Snowden disclosures – with a giant online push to get ordinary internet users signed up and using the tools that are so critical to keeping our information private online.


Are Phablets Signaling a Butterfly Effect for Mobile Devices? By Ken Kaplan, Intel iQ Managing Editor

Maybe they’re just small tweaks to make bigger smartphones or smaller tablets, but the rising popularity of phablets could lead to a faster global shift to more always-connected touchscreen computing devices.

They may not agree on whether these things are more like a big smartphone or a small tablet, but experts are in sync about the big splash phablets will make at next month’s Computex event in Taipei, Taiwan.
Some even see increasing demand for phablets not only impacting how tablets and phones will evolve but also how people are using mobile devices, particularly people around the world who are buying phablets as their first Internet device.
These hybrid mobile devices typically come with screens that are only five to seven inches diagonally across, just like the Asus FonePad 7 and the Asus Zenfone 6, both priced affordably in the $200-250USD range.
Last year, 20 million of the 980 million smartphones shipped globally were considered phablets, and according to Juniper Research that is expected to grow to 120 million phablets by 2018. On the higher side, Barclays analyst Ben Reitzes believes that by 2015 sales of phablets will grow to 230 million units.
“What we’re seeing with Phablets is less a new distinct category and more the emergence of a single continuum that starts at 3.5-inch and moves up to 10-inch plus tablets,” said  Geoff Blabervice president of research at CCS Insight, in an interview earlier in the year. By that he is referring to mobile touchscreen devices with built in 3G and LTE communications capabilities.
“The fascinating part is the widely different distribution characteristics between smartphones, phablets and tablets. That has big implications for everyone in the value chain.”
Blaber expects 5.5-inch to 6.9-inch devices to account for 10% of global smartphone shipments by end 2015.
“Bigger screens are becoming essential for browsing,” Tim Coulling, a senior analyst at Canalys said, in a recent interview with The Guardian.
“They make it a lot more attractive – you can fit more information into a single screen. Media consumption is becoming more and more important. That requires a larger screen. Email gets easier on a big screen too.”
Common in a handful of recent interviews with tech industry insiders was the notion that phablets may seem like a hybrid or simple fusion of phone and tablet, but their growing popularity could result in significant changes both for device makers and people using them as their first real computing device.

Sales of phablets today may seem like a trickle compared with smartphone and tablet sales, but it could be akin to the “butterfly effect,” a method for predicting hurricanes based on how distant a butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks earlier.

To read more, click on the following link:

The American Dream is out of reach By Tami Luhby



So say nearly 6 in 10 people who responded to CNNMoney's American Dream Poll, conducted by ORC International. They feel the dream -- however they define it -- is out of reach.
Young adults, age 18 to 34, are most likely to feel the dream is unattainable, with 63% saying it's impossible. This age group has suffered in the wake of the Great Recession, finding it hard to get good jobs.
Younger Americans are a cause of great concern. Many respondents said they are worried about the next generation's ability to prosper.
Some 63% of all Americans said most children in the U.S. won't be better off than their parents. This dour view comes despite most respondents, 54%, feeling they are better off than their own parents.
The downbeat mood is not surprising, say economic mobility experts.



"The pessimism is reflective of the financial realities a lot of families are facing," said Erin Currier, the director of the Economic Mobility Project at Pew Charitable Trusts. "They are treading water, but their income is not translating into solid financial security."
he vast majority of Americans have higher incomes than their parents, but that's in large part because most families have two earners now, she said. Only half have more wealth, she said. Meanwhile, the savings rate is low and unemployment is high. College costs are rising faster than inflation and student loan debt is exploding.
People also tend to be more pessimistic about the next generation's fortunes in general than their own children's prospects, Currier said. In Pew's polls and focus groups, parents say that it will be tougher for their children to succeed, but they still believe it's possible.
Perceptions, however, aren't supported by the facts, experts said.
The American Dream is not dead, said Ron Haskins, co-director of the Brookings Center on Children and Families.
Two landmark studies released earlier this year concluded that mobility is worse in the U.S. than in many other developed countries, but has not changed significantly over time. Researchers found significant differences in mobility across the nation.
Those who live in areas with higher economic growth and better schools have a greater chance to climb the economic ladder. The studies also found that areas with large African-American populations, such as the South, have lower rates of mobility for all residents.
"Mobility is an issue, but it hasn't gotten any worse," Haskins said.

Mental Illness Shouldn't Be Kept In Closet LISA KIVELL | FRESH TALK The Hartford Courant

How special it is when celebrity athletes use their gifts to "win" at causes other than sports.
Royce White is a collegiate-turned-professional basketball player. Like many outstanding college players, White gained national attention in high school, which led to an NCAA career. After his sophomore year at Iowa State University, White entered the NBA draft, eventually playing for the NBA's Sacramento Kings and two teams in the NBA's D League.

What makes this 23-year-old basketball player different from others? Royce White is fighting a mental illness, and he is using his voice and platform to make a difference for others facing the same challenges.
Diagnosed with both generalized anxiety disorder and pteromerhanophobia (fear of flying), White's illnesses have caused many challenges related to playing the game he loves.
Instead of trying to hide it, however, he's opened up a conversation about mental health, standing up for a population that has remained silent for too long. "My advocacy for mental health will be there regardless of whether I'm playing or not," White told USA Today.
In that same article, White challenged others with mental illnesses to speak up and suggested that major sports organizations like the NBA do the same, becoming advocates for mental health awareness.
The spotlight White casts on mental illnesses needs to not just stay there, but grow wider and brighter.
Last year, as part of my graduate teacher preparation program, I traveled to London where I worked with a young woman who heard as many as seven voices inside her head each day, which even with the best possible treatment made it difficult for her to achieve academic success. On days the voices were quiet, she was able was able to read and write. Other days, when the voices screamed, she could do almost nothing.
Her voices were a part of her identity, but she constantly feared they made her too different to be accepted or understood. Even on quiet days, the idea that peers might reject or laugh at her was debilitating, and it broke my heart. Working with her showed me the importance of acceptance, no matter what a person's race, culture, disability or illness is.
As many as one in four Americans experiences mental illness. One in 17 Americans lives with serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Mental illness is not something that makes people different and monstrous. It is a part of our human identity.
All of our worlds shook when we experienced the tragic shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown sparked by a young man's apparent mental illness, and they continue to shake with every school and public shooting that occurs.
President Barack Obama's recent signing of Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow's "Excellence in Mental Health Act" is a progressive step toward positive change. Designed to provide expanded access to community mental health services, the bill represents the first of many things we, as a society, need to do to strengthen, enrich and improve the lives of those with mental illness.
Teachers also need to better understand how to best teach and support students with mental illness. School staff are often the first to identify the possibility of mental illness. I propose that teacher preparation programs include at least an overview of common mental health signs and symptoms as part of in their curriculum. The silence needs to stop. The fear needs to disappear. This is a call to action, because as Royce White said, we're not doing enough.

Only when we acknowledge and work as a team for mental health change, we will all be champions.

U.S. schools chief calls California ruling 'a mandate' to fix tenure, firing laws By Michael Martinez, CN

Los Angeles (CNN) -- A California judge ruled as unconstitutional Tuesday the state's teacher tenure, dismissal and layoff laws, saying they keep bad teachers in the classroom and force out promising good ones.
Poor and minority students are especially hurt by the laws because "grossly ineffective teachers" more often work in their schools, Los Angeles County Judge Rolf M. Treu said.
The ruling was hailed by the nation's top education chief as bringing to California -- and possibly the nation -- an opportunity to build "a new framework for the teaching profession." The decision represented "a mandate" to fix a broken teaching system, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.
The court ordered a stay of the decision, pending an appeal by the state and the teachers union, the plaintiffs said.

Teacher tenure ruled 'unconstitutional'
Reforming teacher tenure and firing laws is a hotly debated issue in American education, and the California case is being watched nationally, as evidenced by a statement from Duncan immediately after the court ruling.
Reformers say firing a bad teacher is almost impossible because of tenure laws and union protections, but teachers and their unions argue school boards and their firing criteria have unfair, overtly political standards.
Duncan, a former schools chief in Chicago, said he hoped the ruling will spark a national dialogue on a teacher tenure process "that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift."
At a minimum, Duncan said the court decision, if upheld, will bring to California "a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students' rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve."
"The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students. Today's court decision is a mandate to fix these problems," Duncan said.
Teachers unions, however, criticized the ruling, with one leader stating the court decision was "anti-public education" and a "scapegoating" of teachers for public education's problems. They will appeal the ruling.
Judge's ruling
The judge upheld the plaintiffs' arguments that the state's teacher tenure laws violated their rights to an equal education and caused "the potential and/or unreasonable exposure of grossly ineffective teachers to all California students in general and to minority and/or low income students in particular," he wrote.
The effect of bad teachers on students "shocks the conscience," the judge wrote. He cited how one expert testified that a single year in a classroom with a bad teacher costs pupils $1.4 million in lifetime earnings per classroom.
An expert called by the defendants estimated there are as many as 8,250 "grossly ineffective" teachers in the state -- or up to 3% statewide, the judge said.
But the state's two-year process for evaluating new teachers -- much shorter than the three-year period in 32 states -- "does not provide nearly enough time" for making tenure decisions, the judge said.
"This court finds that both students and teachers are unfairly, unnecessarily, and for no legally cognizable reason (let alone a compelling one) disadvantaged by the current ... statute," Treu wrote.
Firing a bad teacher could take anywhere from two to almost 10 years and cost $50,000 to $450,000 or more, the judge said.
He said that "given these facts, grossly ineffective teachers are being left in the classroom because school officials do not wish to go through the time and expense to investigate and prosecute these cases."
"Based on the evidence before this court, it finds the current system required by the dismissal statutes to be so complex, time consuming and expensive as to make an effective, efficient yet fair dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher illusory," the judge wrote.
Plaintiffs' reaction
The plaintiffs said the ruling promises to usher in major reforms to public education and could "create an opportunity for California to embrace a new system that's good for teachers and students," according to the nonprofit Students Matter, which has been working with the nine students who are the plaintiffs.
One of the plaintiffs' attorneys called the ruling "a victory for students, parents, and teachers across California."
"This is a monumental day for California's public education system," plaintiffs' attorney Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. said in a statement. "By striking down these irrational laws, the court has recognized that all students deserve a quality education."
The nine students filed their lawsuit with help from the nonprofitStudents Matter, which says it sponsors "impact litigation to promote access to quality public education."
The plaintiffs alleged that tenure is granted too quickly, giving "grossly ineffective teachers" lifetime job protection, and asserted that dismissal laws are so costly and bureaucratic that districts remain stuck with bad teachers. The suit also contends that the state's "last-in, first-out" layoff laws force districts to fire top teachers and retain ineffective ones, the plaintiffs said in a statement.
Teacher unions will fight ruling
The California Teachers Association, a 325,000-member affiliate of the National Education Association, said it was "disappointed" by the judge's decision "as it hurts student and educators."
The union said there is nothing unconstitutional about the laws and says it is appealing.
"We are deeply disappointed, but not surprised, by this decision. Like the lawsuit itself, today's ruling is deeply flawed. This lawsuit has nothing to do with what's best for kids, but was manufactured by a Silicon Valley millionaire and a corporate PR firm to undermine the teaching profession and push their agenda on our schools," CTA President Dean E. Vogel said in a statement.
The state affiliate of the nation's other teachers union also denounced the court ruling.
"This suit is not pro-student. It is fundamentally anti-public education, scapegoating teachers for problems originating in underfunding, poverty, and economic inequality," California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt said.
The CTA described Students Matter as a group created by Silicon Valley multimillionaire David Welch and a private public relations firm and said the group is supported by former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor "Michelle Rhee and Students First, Parent Revolution Executive Director Ben Austin, billionaire and school privatizer Eli Broad, former lawmaker Gloria Romero, and other corporate education reformers with an interest in privatizing public education and attacking teachers' unions."
Manny Rivera, a spokesman for the plaintiffs, confirmed the roles of those individuals and groups in the lawsuit and its efforts as stated by the union.
Rhee called the ruling "groundbreaking" and a moment for the state to now build "a first-class educational system."


New York CNN Money Article


Rich Americans. That's our global reputation.


The numbers seem to back it up. Americans' average wealth tops $301,000 per adult, enough to rank us fourth on the latest Credit Suisse Global Wealth report.
But that figure doesn't tell you how the middle class American is doing.
Americans' median wealth is a mere $44,900 per adult -- half have more, half have less. That's only good enough for 19th place, below Japan, Canada, Australia and much of Western Europe.
"Americans tend to think of their middle class as being the richest in the world, but it turns out, in terms ofwealth, they rank fairly low among major industrialized countries," said Edward Wolff, a New York University economics professor who studies net worth.
Why is there such a big difference between the two measures?
Super rich Americans skew average wealth upwards. The U.S. has 42% of the world's millionaires, and 49% of those with more than $50 million in assets.

This schism secures us the top rank in one net worth measure -- wealth inequality.
There's one main reason why the average Spaniard or Italian has more to his name than the typical American: real estate.
Home ownership rates are higher in many European countries than in the U.S., giving Joe European more assets to his name than his American counterpart. Plus, it's easier for Americans to borrow money, which eats away at their net worth, said Jim Davies, an economics professor at Western University in Ontario, Canada, and co-author of the Credit Suisse report.

 were also hurt greatly by the housing collapse at the end of the last decade. The median wealth of families was $77,300 in 2010, a nearly 40% drop from 2007, according to Federal Reserve statistics.
"Changes in home prices have a big effect on the wealth in the middle," Davies said.
Middle class Australians, by comparison, are leading the pack. The country's residents have the highest median net worth, coming in at $219,500. Australia also has low wealth inequality.
This is in part because Australians have a strong tradition of home ownership, though escalating prices have made it tougher for young adults to secure the Australian Dream. Those down under also have a mandatory retirement savings program, where they must squirrel away more than 9% of their income for their Golden Years, and they carry relatively low credit card and student loan debt.
Americans, meanwhile, are having trouble building wealth because wages have stagnated for more than a decade. Median household income was $51,017 in 2012, compared to $56,080 in 1999, according to the Census Bureau's most recent statistics.
Americans sound off on The Dream
There are many reasons why middle class incomes are suffering, including the decline of unions' power, the shift of jobs overseas and the increasing use of technology in the workplace, said Kenneth Thomas, professor of political science at University of Missouri, St. Louis.
Also, Americans have to pay more out of pocket for basics, such as health care and higher education, reducing their ability to build their nest egg.
"Middle class families haven't been able to save anything," Wolff said.