School & District Management

Panel: U.S. Education Woes Threaten Nation’s Security

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — March 27, 2012 3 min read

The United States must improve its education system or risk imperiling national security and the economy, according to a new report from a blue-ribbon panel convened by the Council on Foreign Relations.

The product of the 30-member task force chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Joel I. Klein, former chancellor of the New York City public schools, the report cites statistics demonstrating the failures of the school system and recommends more school choice, an annual nationwide audit of educational achievement, and national standards in subjects such as civics and foreign languages.

Four commission members, however, penned dissents distancing themselves from aspects of the report.

The report cites the small number of U.S. students studying science and technology in postsecondary schools: More than half of all doctoral degrees in physics and engineering are awarded to foreign students. It points to low scores overall on standardized tests, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and the Program for International Student Assessment, as indicators of an underdeveloped “human capacity.” The report also notes that 75 percent of Americans between 17 and 24 are ineligible for the armed services, due to obesity, a criminal record, lack of a high school diploma, or inability to pass the armed-forces entrance test.

“A world-class education system is vital to preserving not just the country’s physical security but also to reinforcing the broader components of American leadership, such as economic dynamism, an informed and active democracy, and a coterie of informed professionals willing and able to live and serve around the world,” wrote Richard N. Haass, the president of the New York City-based Council on Foreign Relations, in an introduction to the report.

At a press conference unveiling the report, Ms. Rice and Mr. Klein stressed that public education plays a unique role in forging a national identity. “If we are not one nation, we cannot defend one nation.” Ms. Rice said.

Beyond English

The report calls for strengthening instruction in civics and foreign languages and including them in the Common Core State Standards initiative in order to foster civic awareness, improve U.S. students’ competitiveness and technological savvy, and meet the need for foreign service workers skilled in languages like Russian and Chinese.

“It’s about time,” said Shuhan C. Wang, the deputy director of the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland in College Park, applauding the report’s academic focus. Studying languages has “cognitive, social, and cultural benefits, and it improves ... national security and national prosperity,” Ms. Wang said, noting that the lack of a national policy on language learning is rare among industrialized countries. The report also recommends more choice in K-12 education through charter schools, vouchers, and similar programs. At the conference, Ms. Rice described competitiveness in education as a national strength. “Higher education in the U.S. is the gold standard internationally ... because of the competition and ... the multiplicity of choices,” she said.

The audit called for in the report would study whether “students are learning the skills and knowledge necessary to safeguard America’s future security and prosperity,” including “creative problem-solving” and technology skills.

Some panelists agreed with aspects of the report, such as its description of the importance of schools in American society, but disputed other claims and recommendations. The report “says a troubled public education system is a ‘very grave national security threat facing the country,’ but it offers only anecdotal evidence to support this unconvincing claim,” Steven M. Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, wrote in one dissent.

"[It] advocates privatization, competition, and market-based approaches that, while compelling, have not worked in a scalable and sustainable way either here or abroad,” wrote Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, in a dissent co-signed by Carole Artigiani, the founder of the nonprofit Global Kids, Stanford University scholar Linda Darling-Hammond, and Mr. Walt.

David C. Berliner, an education professor at Arizona State University, in Tempe, who was not on the panel, said the report’s basic message was not new. “Many books were written about my generation, pointing out that we were idiots. ... Certainly the nation was imperiled then,” he said. But that generation “turned the 20th century into the American century.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 28, 2012 edition of Education Week as Panel: U.S. Education Woes Threaten Nation’s Security

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion A Road Map for Education Research in a Crisis
Here are five basic principles for a responsible and timely research agenda during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robin J. Lake
4 min read
Two opposing sides reaching out to work together
J.R. Bee for Education Week
School & District Management A School Leader Who Calls Her Own Shots on Battling the Coronavirus
A charter school founder uses her autonomy to move swiftly on everything from classroom shutdowns to remote schooling.
3 min read
Nigena Livingston, founder and head of School at the URBAN ACT Academy in Indianapolis, Ind.
Nigena Livingston, founder and head of school at the URBAN ACT Academy in Indianapolis, makes swift decisions in responding to the threat of COVID-19 in her school community.
Courtesy of Nigena Livingston
School & District Management A COVID-19 Lull Gives Way to ‘Borderline Insanity’
When the number of cases started to rise steeply, a school community hammered out a routine. Then a basketball player tested positive.
3 min read
Andy McGill, K-12 assistant principal at West Liberty-Salem Local School District in West Liberty, Ohio.
Andy McGill, K-12 assistant principal at West Liberty-Salem Local School District in Ohio, includes coronavirus response among his administrative duties.
Courtesy of Andy McGill
School & District Management Color-Coded Tracking Sheets and Swift Isolation: One Principal's COVID-19 Approach
In a sort of honor system, a principal relies on parents to flag COVID-19 infections at home. Then the staff swings into action.
3 min read
Herb Cox, principal of Midway Middle School in Hewitt, Texas, credits stringent safety measures for the low number of coronavirus cases at his his.
Herb Cox, principal of Midway Middle School in Hewitt, Texas, credits stringent safety measures for the low number of coronavirus cases at his school.
Courtesy of Herb Cox