Report: Education Woes Threaten U.S. National Security

Most of us would concede the United States has an education problem. Where many of us differ is how to remedy the situation. But a new report from an independent task force (sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations) argues that a solution is needed sooner rather than later, and that American security is at stake. Here’s an overview, which includes a link to the full report:

The United States’ failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country’s ability to thrive in a global economy and maintain its leadership role, finds a new Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)–sponsored Independent Task Force report on U.S. Education Reform and National Security.

"Educational failure puts the United States’ future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk," warns the Task Force, chaired by Joel I. Klein, former head of New York City public schools, and Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state. The country "will not be able to keep pace—much less lead—globally unless it moves to fix the problems it has allowed to fester for too long," argues the Task Force.

The report notes that 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. According to the results of the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international assessment that measures the performance of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics, and science every three years, U.S. students rank fourteenth in reading, twenty-fifth in math, and seventeenth in science compared to students in other industrialized countries.

Though there are many successful individual schools and promising reform efforts, the national statistics on educational outcomes are disheartening:

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.

The lack of preparedness poses threats on five national security fronts: economic growth and competitiveness, physical safety, intellectual property, U.S. global awareness, and U.S. unity and cohesion, says the report. Too many young people are not employable in an increasingly high-skilled and global economy, and too many are not qualified to join the military because they are physically unfit, have criminal records, or have an inadequate level of education.

Are You Confident About National Security Choices?

I’m all for national security. Nothing like going out on a limb there. But when I read a rather inconspicuous news brief about three cities being upgraded to the hish-risk tier for terrorist attacks (providing them a combined $67 million in federal funding for 2010), my mind harkened back to the 2006 Homeland Security Department list that included nearly 8,600 terrorist targets in Indiana — more than any state in the nation.

It seems a bit more logical that Boston, Philadelphia and Dallas (the cities upgraded) would rank higher than the popcorn distributor in Berne, Indiana, (one of the 2006 target entries) but it still makes you stop and think. The three additions bring the top-tier category to 10. The total pot of money across the country is $2.7 billion.

The quote attributed to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano didn’t inspire a great deal of confidence. It read: "What it represents is an assessment of risk versus looking at some other factors, such as population densities and other things of that sort."

At the same time, Omaha, Nebraska and Bakersfield, California, were added to the second-tier list for the first time. A portion of the funding from two New York cites — Albany and Syracuse — was cut to make room for the additions.

Here’s another lackluster quote from a "lucky" recipient. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, who represents Dallas, said drug and gang activity in the city adds to its risk profile. "Of course nobody likes that but I’m glad to have the attention given to it."

Just makes you wonder how these evaluations are made and how the money is being spent. Security, yes. Government decision-making, I’m not so sure.