Education report: Shortcomings of US schools pose national security threat
Former secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein cochaired a task force that released its report Tuesday.
Nearly 30 years after the landmark education report â€śA Nation at Risk,â€ť a new report finds that Americaâ€™s failure to prepare its young people for a globalized world is now so grave that it poses a national security threat.
Some of the key factors that the report cites in linking education shortcomings and a weakened national security: insufficient preparation of children for the highly technical jobs that both the private sector and the military increasingly need to fill, scant and declining foreign-language education, and a weakened â€śnational cohesivenessâ€ť as a result of an under-educated and unemployable poor population.
â€śEducational failure puts the United Statesâ€™ future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk,â€ť says the report, the result of an independent task force cochaired by former secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein.
Noting that the â€śdominant power of the 21st century will depend on human capital,â€ť the report concludes that â€śthe failure to produce that capital will undermine American security.â€ť
Ms. Rice on Tuesday zeroed in on signs of faltering national cohesion as at the â€śheartâ€ť of the vast and complex issues addressed in the report.
Education is â€śthe glue that keeps us together,â€ť she said at an event in Washington Tuesday at the Council on Foreign Relations, which sponsored the task force. A factor weakening that glue, she said, is the â€śperception of a smaller and smaller group that is advancing in America.â€ť She added, â€śIf we are not one nation, we cannot defend one nation.â€ť
The report cites a series of indicators of Americaâ€™s educational weaknesses â€“ from US studentsâ€™ disappointing placement on international rankings of math and science competencies, to recent reports out of the Defense Department that three-fourths of young Americans are not qualified to join the armed forces (although physical conditions such as obesity, and not just educational shortcomings, play a role in that number).
The US is not producing enough foreign-language speakers to fill key positions in the Foreign Service, in intelligence agencies, and in Americaâ€™s increasingly global companies.
And yet, Rice said, â€śWe are the most monolingual major society on Earth.â€ť
To reverse the nationâ€™s education slide, the task force offers a number of recommendations, one of which is a longer school day and a longer school year. â€śWe have the shortest learning day and the shortest learning year practically of all [countries] in the industrialized world,â€ť Rice said.
The task forceâ€™s three main recommendations:
â€˘ Putting more emphasis on children learning science, technology, and foreign languages, in addition to reading and math.
â€˘ Preparation by the states, in conjunction with the federal government, of what the report calls a â€śnational security readiness audit.â€ť This would measure how schools are doing at teaching â€śthe skills and knowledge necessary to safeguard Americaâ€™s future security and prosperity.â€ť
â€˘ Increasing school choice and competition, namely by charter schools and vouchers â€“ within an environment of â€śequitable resource allocation.â€ť
Not all the task forceâ€™s members signed on to all the reportâ€™s recommendations, with several members offering â€śdissentingâ€ť views at the end of the report.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, praised Rice for putting an emphasis on â€śpublic educationâ€ť at the Tuesday event. But as a dissenting member of the task force, she finds that the final report does too little to recognize public educationâ€™s role in America.
â€śPublic education has been a cornerstone of democracy and a means of acculturation for generations of Americans,â€ť she writes in her dissenting comment. Referring to calls for US education to be more open to privatization, â€śA move away from that public system could do greater harm to our national security and common bonds than doing nothing at all.â€ť
Another dissenting member, Harvard national security expert Stephen Walt, says the report â€śexaggerates the national security rationale for reforming US K-12 education.â€ť No country is likely to match Americaâ€™s overall military power and technological supremacy for decades, he says.
â€śThere are good reasons to improve K-12 education,â€ť Mr. Walt writes in his dissent, â€śbut an imminent threat to our national security is not high among them.â€ť
He also describes a â€śmismatchâ€ť between the reportâ€™s claims and its remedies, saying that if the threat was really â€śvery grave,â€ť emphatic support for more resources would be in order. But, he says, the report only offers â€śthe very bland statementâ€ť that increased resources â€śmay well be justifiable.â€ť
The task force co-chairs agree that more money may need to be spent on education â€“ especially if schools are asked to meet certain standards in more subjects, or if school days are extended â€“ but they also emphasize their view that money is not the answer.
Spending on K-12 education tripled from 1960 to 2010, while results declined, says Mr. Klein, now an education specialist at News Corp.
Meeting the educational challenges outlined in the report â€śis going to cost money,â€ť Rice said. â€śWe just have to make sure that the money spent is well spent.â€ť