by Donna Krache, CNN
(CNN) - The U.S. educational system is facing “a national security crisis,” an independent task force from the Council on Foreign Relations warned in a report Tuesday.
“America’s failure to educate is affecting its national security,” said the Independent Task Force on U.S. Education Reform and National Security, which the council launched last year to focus on the problems in K-12 education.
Joel Klein, CEO of News Corp.’s education division and former chancellor of New York City’s school system; and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, now a professor of political economy at Stanford University’s graduate business school, served as chairs for the task force. Klein and Rice joined a discussion Tuesday about the group’s report at an event in Washington.
Problems in education could undermine the country’s cohesion, the two warned.
“The great American narrative is that it doesn’t matter where you came from,” Rice said, citing the role of education as “one of our cultural democratic institutions” that must be able to deliver opportunity for all.
Klein pointed to a climate of divisiveness among Americans. “There’s a feeling that ‘the rest of us’ are not getting ‘our fair shot at the American Dream,’ ” he said. Since Americans do not share a religion or a culture, education is part of the glue that holds the country together, but many aspects of the current model are not working, Klein said.
Five threats to national security cited
The task force found that failures in America’s education system pose five national security threats, including to economic growth and competitiveness, to U.S. physical safety, to intellectual property, to U.S. global awareness and to U.S. unity and cohesion.
It said that national security is no longer a function solely of military might but is “closely linked with human capital” and that this capital is only as strong as the country’s public schools.
Regarding economic growth, the report said the U.S. education system is not preparing students for the global work force. “Poorly educated and semiskilled Americans cannot expect to effectively compete for jobs against fellow U.S. citizens or global peers, and are left unable to fully participate in and contribute to society,” the report said.
As far as the country’s safety, the report cited a Defense Department statistic that 75% of American youth do not qualify for the armed forces due to the lack of a high school diploma, physical obstacles such as obesity or criminal records. Factors such as obesity and crime cannot be blamed on schools, the report said. But it said that among those who are qualified for the armed forces, many are not academically prepared - 30% don’t pass the military’s aptitude test.
The report said there is a lack of technologically qualified individuals to address cyberthreats to businesses and government. It points out that foreign language and global awareness skills among American students are lacking, jeopardizing military, business, intelligence and diplomatic interests, and it said a failure to learn about global cultures can have “serious consequences.”
The task force also said the American Dream appears to be out of reach for many. “The growing gap between the educated and the undereducated is creating a widening chasm that divides Americans and has the potential to tear at the fabric of society,” it said.
Underlying problems found
Among the factors at the core of the nation’s education problems were a lack of emphasis on civics; failure to teach foreign languages; lack of student proficiency in reading, math and science; differences in educational standards and opportunities for children who live in different states, districts and neighborhoods; low graduation rates; poor academic performance compared with international counterparts; school systems “laden with bureaucracy and inefficiencies”; failure to attract, train and compensate good teachers; and a “mismatch” between student preparation and jobs, according to the report.
The task force commended some efforts at reform, including Common Core State Standards, a state-led initiative by the nation’s governors to provide a “consistent framework” to prepare students for the work force and college, and school choice, which gives parents more options in the education of their children, as well as moves toward accountability and educational leadership. Members also acknowledged that while theUnited States can learn from other countries, it should also build on its strengths in innovation, creativity and competition.
Some dissension among members
The task force findings did not come without some dissension among members. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, commended the task force and said there was “a lot of agreement” on its mission and findings.
“How we use education to reignite America is a really important notion,” Weingarten said.
She said that she did not disagree with giving parents choices, but she questioned some of the group’s recommendations, including what she termed the “opt-out system” when students and parents choose schools. “What happens to some of the other kids?” she asked.
She also said that some education systems – such as Singapore’s – “have more of a public education system than we would ever have” and that the U.S. should consider some of the ways these systems train and pay educators. She stressed the importance of public education in the U.S. and its responsibilities to all children.
The task force issued three “central recommendations” for improving K-12 education in the United States. These include:
• Implementing educational expectations in subjects vital to protecting national security and urging states to expand the Common Core State Standards to do so.
• Making structural changes to provide students with good choices and telling states to “stop locking disadvantaged students into failing schools without any options. …”
• Launching a “national security readiness audit” to hold schools and policymakers accountable for results and raising public awareness based on “meaningful assessments” and urging a public awareness campaign around this effort.