NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

U.S. Education Reform and National Security

March 30, 2012

A Council on Foreign Relations-sponsored Independent Task Force report on U.S. Education Reform and National Security has found that education woes in the United States pose a security risk for the United States.  As American students gradually fall behind their international peers, the task force has argued that the country will face threats to its economic growth and competitiveness, physical safety, intellectual property, U.S. global awareness, and U.S. unity and cohesion.

The 2009 Program for International Student Assessment, an international assessment that measures the performance of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science every three years, serves as a reliable metric for comparing American students with those of other developed countries.

  • U.S. students rank 14th in reading.
  • In science, they placed 17th.
  • They also obtained a paltry rank of 25th in mathematics.

These sub-par rankings reflect an education system that fails to serve students.  This failure is not only reflected in comparisons to other countries, but is also visible in entirely domestic metrics.

  • More than 25 percent of students fail to graduate from high school in four years, and 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 10 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.
  • 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.

Recognizing these issues and seeking to address them, the task force proposed three broad policy needs:

  • Increase educational access to subjects that are crucial to the aforementioned areas of national security.
  • Allow greater competition among education providers.
  • Publicize efforts to improve security readiness through augmented education programs.

Source: "U.S. Education Reform and National Security," Council on Foreign Relations, 2012.

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