We don’t have enough concerns for our future. Now a couple of items point out yet another.
The Council for Foreign Relations commissioned a report by an Independent Task Force which was co-chaired by chaired by Joel I. Klein, former head of New York City public schools, and Condoleezza Rice, former US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. The report laid out in so many words the failure of our K-12 education system, and the costs to our nation’s ability to survive if we don’t correct these failures.
A member of the task force, ex-Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, has one summary:
We don’t have nearly enough people who are capable in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math. When we think about the modern world of defense, the fact that we don’t have people who are capable to do this work is scary.
We don’t have people who know and understand foreign languages and other cultures….
The report itself summarized those concerns and put them in the context of five key aspects to the US’ competitiveness, and by extension, our survival as an independent nation:
Educational failure puts the United States’ future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk
These, according to the report, consist of economic growth and competitiveness, US physical safety, Intellectual property, US global awareness. and US unity and cohesion.
Moreover, funding isn’t the issue, actual performance is:
[While] the United States invests more in K-12 public education than many other developed countries, its students are ill prepared to compete with their global peers.
The failures, the report says, include these:
- More than 25 percent of students fail to graduate from high school in four years; for African-American and Hispanic students, this number is approaching 40 percent.
- In civics, only a quarter of U.S. students are proficient or better on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
- Although the United States is a nation of immigrants, roughly eight in ten Americans speak only English and a decreasing number of schools are teaching foreign languages.
- A recent report by ACT, the not-for-profit testing organization, found that only 22 percent of U.S. high school students met “college ready” standards in all of their core subjects; these figures are even lower for African-American and Hispanic students.
- The College Board reported that even among college-bound seniors, only 43 percent met college-ready standards, meaning that more college students need to take remedial courses.
For a nation of immigrants, and a nation whose demography requires a large and steady influx of immigrants, these are especially damaging. How can we expect to remain the nation we have been, retain the cultural imperatives that made us so great, if we can no longer recognize who we are, or teach these to our newcomers—whether newborn or new immigrants? How can we expect to remain the nation we have been, retain the cultural imperatives that made us so great, if we can no longer recognize where we came from, or identify where we want, as a nation, to go?
Klein added, and this is especially a propos that lack of a civics education, as well as our economic and defense technology competitiveness,
A massively undereducated country is not going to be competitive. It’s not going to be cohesive.
The Task Force offered three high-level policy recommendations:
- Implement educational expectations and assessments in subjects vital to protecting national security. Science, technology, and foreign languages are essential—as are creative problem-solving skills and civic awareness.
- Make structural changes to provide students with good choices. States and districts should stop locking disadvantaged students into failing schools without any options…. Enhanced choice and competition, in an environment of equitable resource allocation, will fuel the innovation necessary to transform results.
- Launch a “national security readiness audit” to hold schools and policymakers accountable for results and to raise public awareness. At the heart of this recommendation is the creation of more meaningful assessments and simulations of student learning and, then, a coordinated, national effort to create targets and repercussions….
The full report, U.S. Education Reform and National Security, is here:
As always, the devil is in the details. These standards, this accountability, must be strict, rigorous, and followed with prompt reassignment or termination of those teachers or administrators who do not deliver. The STEM courses not only should be taught at all grades, they should be supplemented at all grades with courses in American history, American civics, and the history of civilization.
And the standards and accountability must be applied to the students, also. Those who do not perform must be held back until they do measure up. And that, in addition to enabling our nation’s continued success, is the true path to Johnny’s self-esteem.