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Is the 'Failing' Education System in the United States the Biggest Threat to National Secu

A recent 2012 Task Force report on U.S. Education Reform and National Security, published by the Council on Foreign Affairs, examines the correlation between National Security and the United States’ “broken” education system. The report emphasizes that educational failure jeopardizes the United States’ “future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety.” The task force, co-chaired by former New York City schools chief Joel Klein and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, suggests that the lack of academic skills and knowledge “essential for understanding America’s allies and its adversaries” poses a grave threat to national security.

The report goes on to specify areas in which the United States is threatened: economic growth and competitiveness; physical safety; intellectual property; U.S. global awareness; and U.S. unity and cohesion. Emphasis is placed on the need to produce human capital in order to remain a successful nation. The report suggests that “the failure to do so will undermine American security.”

The task force suggests that math, reading, and science skills are extremely important to the nation’s production of human capital. However, according to an international assessment (Program for International Student Assessment) measuring 15-year-old performances, the United States ranks 14th in reading, 25th in math and 17th in science.

The report also focuses on the lack of foreign language skills acquired by Americans. Approximately in ten Americans speak only English. There are also a decreasing number of schools actually teaching foreign languages. The Task force insinuates that if all students grew up with the opportunity to learn multiple languages, Americans would have an increased understanding of world history and cultures and be better prepared to compete against their international peers.

These academic and cultural skills in addition to civic awareness are needed to prepare officials protecting our nation, such as “sharp intelligence officers, soldiers and diplomats, and techies who can guard corporate and governmental cyber networks.” However, in today’s society, 75 percent of young adults cannot even serve in the military due to inadequate levels of education, physical unfitness, or criminal records. Additionally, approximately 30% of high school graduates are not performing well enough on the aptitude test required to join the military.

With the lack of college students receiving degrees in science and math, the Task force is concerned that the United States is not producing the proper talent needed to steer our countries defense force in the right direction. For instance, 4.5 percent of United States College Students graduate with engineering degrees, while in China more than half of college students graduate with a degree in engineering or science. Consequently, employers are finding it difficult to hire qualified candidates for defense related jobs in the private and governmental sector.

The report listed a real life example of how these factors can be detrimental to national security. A U.S. military intelligence headquarters in Iraq reported that only four or five personnel out of a staff of 250 were “capable analysts” and no personnel was adequately trained to be effective analysts in a counterinsurgency environment. These findings suggest that personnel filling these jobs lack the proper training and skills in problem-solving which could potentially harm the nation.

The task force makes three recommendations that will hopefully improve school systems and positively impact national security. The task force recommends the following:

1) Implement educational expectations in subjects vital to protecting national security.

2) Make structural changes to provide students with good choices.

3) Launch a “national security readiness audit” to hold schools and policymakers accountable for results and to raise public awareness.

These recommendations do not sit well with 5 members of the 30 member panel. The dissenters thought of the report as targeting the United States Education System instead of showing that there actually is a “grave national security threat facing the country” due to public schools. The dissenters noted that the United States remains a world leader in science and technology, spends an abundance of funds on national security, and has several allies around the world. Given these factors, how could the public school system be an imminent threat to national security?

Dissenters also worry that too much pressure is placed on schools and teachers to make unnecessary changes in curriculum. For instance, one dissenter suggests that the money used to focus on more standardized tests could be better utilized in the poorest school districts. At the very least, everyone can agree that improvement in the public school system is needed. However, only time will tell as to whether this is a political scheme to easily reform public schools or if the public education system genuinely poses a national security threat.


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