This is why the public ends up with whiplash trying to keep track of the news, reports and findings about education to figure out if we are improving, declining or stagnating.
A report released in Washington today provided heartening news on improving high school graduation rates, including here in Georgia.
But a few hours later comes a news story about a sobering report from a panel of influential leaders — Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein, among them — that warns national security and economic prosperity are in jeopardy if America’s schools don’t improve.
The Council on Foreign Relations’ task force report, obtained by The Associated Press, cautions that far too many schools fail to adequately prepare students. “The dominant power of the 21st century will depend on human capital,” it said. “The failure to produce that capital will undermine American security.”
The task force said the State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies face critical shortfalls in the number of foreign language speakers, and that fields such as science, defense and aerospace are at particular risk because a shortage of skilled workers is expected to worsen as baby boomers retire.
According to the panel, 75 percent of young adults don’t qualify to serve in the military because they are physically unfit, have criminal records or inadequate levels of education. That’s in part because 1 in 4 students fails to graduate from high school in four years, and a high school diploma or the equivalent is needed to join the military. But another 30 percent of high school graduates don’t do well enough in math, science and English on an aptitude test to serve in the military, the report said.
The task force, consisting of 30 members with backgrounds in areas such as education and foreign affairs, was organized by the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based research and policy organization focused on international issues. The report was scheduled to be released Tuesday.
“Too many Americans are deficient in both global awareness and knowledge that is “essential for understanding America’s allies and its adversaries,” the report concludes. “Leaving large swaths of the population unprepared also threatens to divide Americans and undermines the country’s cohesion, confidence, and ability to serve as a global leader.”
Rice and Klein said in interviews that they are encouraged by efforts to improve schools such as the adoption of “common core” standards set in reading and math in a vast majority of states and the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” competition, in which states compete for federal money in exchange for more meaningful teacher evaluations. But, they added, the pace to improve America’s schools must accelerate. “The rest of the world is not sitting by while we, in a rather deliberate fashion, reform the education system,” Rice said.
The Council on Foreign Relations’ task force report elicited this statement from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who, given how many press statements she utters on breaking education news, either never sleeps or has the most efficient communications department cranking out responses on her behalf:
“This report makes the case that our national security depends on America’s children having high-quality education. It makes some recommendations that we firmly embrace, including using the Common Core State Standards. Yet one of the council’s three recommendations is to create an opt-out, rather than fortifying and strengthening our public system so that every child and every parent has great choices. The countries that have outperformed us have done so by investing in their public systems, building the capacity of their teaching forces, working collaboratively and ensuring that education is everyone’s responsibility: parents, teachers, students, community and government alike. No other public service that is essential to the nation’s well-being—like law enforcement, firefighting or the armed forces—has abandoned its role as a public entity.
“We know what works to strengthen teaching and learning. We should scale up effective programs used in the top-performing U.S. school districts and nations, not ignore them. When it comes to their children’s school, parents want to have confidence that their child can attend a strong neighborhood school and receive a high-quality education. We owe them nothing less.”
–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog