A new report put out by Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein through the Council on Foreign Relations stated that current U.S. schools are posing a future risk to the nation’s security and economic status. However, the report and its detractors are illustrating a larger problem in education reform, both sides claim that education needs to be reformed but neither side can agree on what the problem is, let alone on any solution.
According to the report, the current education system is undereducating the youth of the nation damaging the ability of the United States to “physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy.”
“I don't think people have really thought about the national security implications and the inability to have people who speak the requisite languages who can staff a volunteer military, the kind of morale and human conviction you need to hold a country together. I don't think people have thought about it in those terms,” Klein said to The Associated Press.
The report shows that 75 percent of young adults in the country don’t qualify to serve in the military because they lack the necessary education, are physically unfit, or have criminal records. One in 4 fail to graduate on time, the minimum education requirement to join the military, and of those who graduate 30 percent do not do well enough in aptitude tests to serve.
Additionally, the report shows that many who do graduate high school are deficient in global skills, such as political awareness and foreign languages, that are critical to both national security and economic prosperity in today’s world.
“Yes, we are falling behind,” Rice said to CBS News. “American kids are falling behind their peers in any number of ways, but the most important thing is we need to educate our people for the challenges of the 21st century, and our schools unfortunately are not doing that.”
They propose three solutions to the problem and to make the United States more competitive in education:
• Adopt and expand the common core initiative to include skill sets critical to national security such as science, technology and foreign languages;
• Structure changes to provide students with more choices in where they can go to school, so many students aren't stuck in underperforming schools;
• Implement a national security readiness audit, prepared by governors working with the federal government, that can be used to judge whether schools are meeting national expectations in education.
However, many see these solutions to the problem as already a part of the problem with education. Valerie Strauss, education writer for The Washington Post voiced disagreement with the report, stating that the solutions presented do not really address many of the problems she sees in education, and unfairly demonizes teachers and administrators in struggling schools.
“The report cites lots of statistics that paint public schools in the worst possible light, and continues the trend of comparing America’s educational system with that of high-achieving countries — but doesn’t note that these countries generally don’t do the kinds of things these reformers endorse,” Strauss wrote in a blog post for The Washington Post responding to the report. “Its recommendations would lead to further privatization of public schools and even more emphasis on standardized testing.”
In a dissenting view point at the end of the report, Carole Artigiani, founder of Global Kids Inc. and part of the task force that helped contribute to the report, explained that vouchers and charter schools are detrimental to public schools where 90 percent of the student population attend.
“Charter schools and vouchers are diverting funds and energy away from neighborhood schools,” Artigiani wrote, “and the more successful ones rely on additional support from private sources, a situation that is neither sustainable nor scalable.”
In her dissenting view—which was agreed upon by other task force members including Stephen Walt, an international affairs professor at Harvard, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers—Artigiani explains that teachers need more freedom to innovate in their teaching without the constant fear of losing their job.
“Our public schools need flexibility and sufficient resources to identify and nurture young people’s talents, interests, and imagination, whether in the sciences, mathematics, technology, or the liberal and applied arts,” Artigiani wrote. “Early and ongoing exposure to all of these subjects develops critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills, all essential to building a sound and sustainable economy—and also a society enriched and emboldened to take on the challenges before us in the twenty-first century.”
Ultimately, it seems that everyone is in agreement that education in the United States is suffering and is in desperate need of change and reform. However, there are two conflicting sides—both with valid points—that cannot seem to find common ground. If they do not come to some sort of agreement or compromise on how to solve these problems, education, along with our children, will continue to suffer.
Daniel Duerden is a writer and content editor for 360 Education Solutions