Published April 12, 2012
A new report finds that the United States' education system is putting the country's national security at risk.
The independent study, sponsored by The Council on Foreign Relations, finds K-12 school systems across the country are failing to adequately prepare kids to grow up and protect the U.S.
"For starters, we don't have nearly enough people who are capable in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math," said former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, a member of the council's task force that wrote the report, titled "U.S. Education Reform and National Security."
"When we think about the modern world of defense," Spellings said, "the fact that we don't have people who are capable to do this work is scary."
In addition to skills needed to defend ourselves in war, the study found American schools fail to teach students skills needed to avoid conflicts.
"We don't have people who know and understand foreign languages and other cultures," said Spelling, pointing out that U.S. children are ranked No. 17 in the world for language skills. "On any given day, there are hundreds of (job) vacancies for people who speak Pashtu and Arabic, and Mandarin and on and on."
The Council on Foreign Relations report was chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York City Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein.
It states America's educational failures pose five distinct threats to national security:
- Threats to economic growth and competitiveness
- U.S. physical safety
- Intellectual property
- U.S. global awareness
- U.S. unity and cohesion
Klein, who now works for News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, said he believes the greatest threat to national security is the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots and the increasing belief that the American Dream could soon become nothing but a memory.
"This sense that your kids lives won't be better than your lives. That, to me will erode America's confidence. That will make us more divided," Klein said. "A massively undereducated country is not going to be competitive. It's not going to be cohesive."
However, there is no difference between black and white, rich and poor, when it comes to American schools' failure to teach skills that could eventually be life saving.
"Disadvantaged kids are the most impacted. But even at the high end, we are sort of fat, dumb and happy," Spellings said. "Some new data out suggests that even in Beverly Hills and Princeton and Scarsdale, any affluent community you can think of, those kids don't perform very well compared to their peers around the world, either."
So what can Americans do? The report recommends these three main concepts:
- Expanding state standards to offer more lessons necessary for safeguarding national security, like science and language
- Provide parents and students school choice
- Conduct "national security readiness audits" of all schools and hold them accountable if they’re not meeting standards
To spur these changes, Klein and Spellings are urging Americans, whether they have kids or not, to discuss education issues with their local legislators.
"Don't talk about tax abatement. Don't talk about pollution. Talk first and foremost about transforming education," Klein said. "That's the only way I know to make the political processes change."
Spellings suggests getting involved yourself.
"We've got to get back to the day where people in this room will stand up and say: 'I'm going to run for the school board.' We have left that level of politics to self-interested political careerists who want to use it as a stepping stone or people who represent the system," Spellings said. "If we're not paying attention, then shame on us. That's what we get."