Education Woes Threaten National Security, Says 30-Member Task Force

Report calls for expanded Common Core State Standards

Texas Insider Report: WASHINGTON, D.C. — Several Task Force members agreed with some aspects of the report, such as its description of the importance of schools in American society and its support for professional development for teachers. But others expressed concerns about some of its information & recommendations.  

The United States must improve its education system or risk imperiling national security and the economy, according to a new report from a blue-ribbon panel convened by the Council on Foreign Relations.

“A world-class education system is vital to preserving not just the country’s physical security, but also to reinforce the broader components of American leadership such as economic dynamism, an informed and active democracy, and a coterie of informed professionals willing and able to live and serve around the world,” sais Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations in an introduction to the report

U.S. Education Reform & National Policy,” the product of the 30-member task force chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Joel I. Klein, former chancellor of the New York City Public Schools, cites statistics demonstrating the failures of the school system

It also recommends more school-choice options, an annual nationwide audit of educational achievement, and national standards in subjects such as civics & foreign languages.

The report cites the small number of U.S. students studying science and technology at a college level and low scores overall on standardized tests, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, as indicators of an underdeveloped “human capacity.”

The report also notes that less than a quarter of all students are eligible for the armed services, due to either obesity, criminal records, lack of high school diplomas, or inability to pass the armed forces entrance test.

At a press conference marking the publication of the report, Ms. Rice and Mr. Klein emphasized that public education plays a unique role in forging a national identity. “If we are not one nation, we cannot defend one nation.”

Four commission members, however, dissented from those recommendations, outlining their concerns in dissents appended to the report.

Beyond English

The report’s call for more instruction in civics and in foreign languages is aimed at improving U.S. students’ competitiveness and meeting the nation’s need for foreign service workers skilled in languages like Russian and Chinese.

“It’s about time,” said Shuhan C. Wang, the deputy director of the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland in College Park, applauding the report’s focus on educational substance. Studying languages has “cognitive, social, and cultural benefits, and it improves…national security and national prosperity,” Ms. Wang said.

She said that the nation’s lack of a national policy on language learning is rare among industrialized countries, where foreign language study often begins in elementary school.

The report also calls for the Common Core State Standards Initiative to be expanded to include foreign languages, sciences, and the arts.

The report’s authors also recommend more choice in K-12 education through charter schools, school vouchers, and similar programs.

At the conference, Ms. Rice described competitiveness as one of the nation’s strengths. “Higher education in the U.S. is the gold standard internationally…because of the competition and…the multiplicity of choices.”

The authors said these reforms “will cost money. We just have to make sure that money that’s spent is well spent.” 

“[It] advocates privatization, competition, and market-based approaches that, while compelling, have not worked in a scalable and sustainable way either here or abroad,” wrote Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, in a dissent co-signed by Carole Artigiani, the founder of the nonprofit Global Kids, and Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University.

Weingarten said that while she agreed that “how we use education to ignite America is a really important notion,” some of the nations that outperform the U.S. use educational models that differ from those proposed in the report.

An Old Story?

“In truth, there’s nothing new here. It happened after Sputnik in 1957. It happened in 1983 with A Nation at Risk. It seems to happen every time PISA results are released,” said Kevin G. Welner, director of the Colorado University-Boulder’s National Education Policy Center.

David Berliner, a professor of education at Arizona State University, in Phoenix, agreed. “Many books were written about my generation, pointing out that we were idiots, that teachers were babying us, and that learning wasn’t taking place…Certainly the nation was imperiled then, just as Rice and Klein now say we are.”

But, he said, that generation “turned the 20th century into the American century.” Nonetheless, both Berliner and Welner were skeptical of the proposed solutions.

“What we apparently have to do is to intensify all the things that we’ve been doing for the past couple of decades: More privatization, more testing and test-based accountability, more charter schools and vouchers, and more deprofessionalization of teaching,” said Welner.

“We as a nation do have an equity crisis, and this crisis includes our schools. We should as a nation be alarmed that so many children are growing up in areas of concentrated poverty,” Welner said.

“But I see little in this new report that takes seriously the causes or needed responses to the actual problems faced by our nation’s children. More testing, charters, and vouchers won’t help a bit.”


  1. 1. An anecdote about the admitted fact that some (indeed many) children who live in poverty succeed in school proves nothing. The important fact is that most poor children do badly in school even when they sit in the same classroom next to other students (both poor and not poor) who succeed. By pretending that living in an inadequate household does not do irreparable developmental damage to children, we condemn most of them to failure in school and life. “Data” is not the plural of “anecdote” and hope is not a strategy.

    2. The fact that my criticism does not include a solution is logically unrelated to the fact that schools cannot repair the developmental damage to children by being raised in inadequate homes. Furthermore,the fact that my criticism does not include a solution does not prevent the Rice-Klein Report from being foolish nonsense.

    3. If you want a solution, figure one out. What we have done since 1965 has never worked. One definition of insanity is repeating past behavior and expecting a different result.

  2. @Rob Bligh

    Your whole treatise was to point out the problem of poverty and the American family household. What I failed to see was a solution. I think most of us see the problems and ills of our society. We need solutions, and fast.

  3. Rob, sorry but I have to disagree. I was raised within a below the poverty line household yet I am not a failure. I not only finished High school in the top quarter of my class as did my sisters, but I put myself through college. I paid for it myself. It was difficult and lots of long hours. Yet rewarding. The difference is in the family setting itself. If the family setting is there, then even poverty is not a hinderence to the individual. I will say this as well, discipline within the home must also be present. I was raised in a very strict home. One that was conservative christian and raised to believe that love was shown through discipline. Hence, the biblical principle of spare the rod, spoil the child. Once Dr Spock introduce his ‘great’ thesis about the evils of corporal punishment (even though he did not himself have children) things changed within the families and schools. No longer can the schools issue needed punishment to students. And families now have to worry about spanking their children when they are in need of correction. I remember times when I would receive spankings from members of the extended family. Those individuals who were present and witnessed the ‘sin’ when it occurred. They therefore took immediate action to correct the behavior and I also remember that I never did that again. Lesson learned. Surprising how that works. Take a piece of candy as a child, get to take it back to the owner and tell him you are sorry for stealing, receive your spanking. Done. Never take another item. Hmmm. Yet today parents are not allowed to enact that same discipline with their child and we wonder why we have issues with crime, or students do not learn like they used to in the classroom. When discipline is set into place and children know their limits, learning can occur. Those distractors to learning can be dealt with immediately, such as when I was in school, and then learning will continue immediately following, guaranteed. Very seldom was their a student that did not respond immediately to the discipline of the school staff and once the administration of discipline was completed the student was usually more than happy to comply with the teacher’s directions afterward.

    As for needing more oversight and governmental involvement…I believe that perhaps if we were to go back to the ‘dark ages’ of discipline and enforcing rules perhaps our children would learn more at home and in school, and government involvement would not be necessary.

    Yet, you are correct in that the family is where it would need to begin. And government needs to stay out of the business of raising children. I believe that when the government cannot even balance a budget, they have no right to try to tell me how to handle my affairs. The business of Governing is not to tell me how to raise my children or how to worship my God. They need to figure out how to deal with foreign governments and stopping rouge countries such as Iran from pursuing Weapons that are designed to wipe out whole civilizations.

  4. I agree with the dissenters of the report. It is the mindset that the children bring to school that impedes their learning. What can we do to solve this problem?

  5. K-12 Schools Are Not Social Hospitals

    This week the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) issued its “Klein-Rice” report on America’s K-12 education system and its perceived damaging influence on national security. (See the CFR Press Release, attached).

    Unfortunately this report repeats the mistakes made by the authors of (1) the original federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, (2) the Nation at Risk Report, (3) the By-The-Year-2000 legislation and (4) the No Child Left Behind Act. They all want to order schools to repair the developmental damage done to children who have spent their first 43,000 hours alive (the period between birth and the first day of kindergarten) in inadequate households. The focus on schools has always been both appealing and convenient, but it is misguided and, therefore, futile. The problem is not inadequate schools. The problem is inadequate families.

    Academic achievement gaps are established long before the first day of kindergarten. Every child’s first school is the home. The first teachers are parents. Children live about 50,000 hours between conception and age 5. They spend only about 14,000 hours in class between the first day of kindergarten and the last day of grade 12. Given the influence that earlier learning has on later learning, it would be truly astonishing if achievement gaps did not appear well before formal education begins.

    Unmarried mothers do not become pregnant in maternity wards. Young men do not become criminals by committing crimes in jails. Unraised children do not become bad students in school. Schools, maternity wards and jails are merely the locations where the results of being unraised are most likely to appear first. Children who must live in inadequate households – especially between birth and age five – tend strongly to fail in school and there is little that teachers or schools can do to change that fact. The school is merely the place where the proof of family failure almost always shows up first.

    More than 91 percent of every childhood is spent someplace other than school. Ordering schools to provide the social support that is missing from a child’s life is foolish. Since at least 1965 America has ordered schools to “heal” all manner of developmental damage that is done to children who are forced to live in inadequate households. It has ordered in vain. Schools are not “social hospitals” and treating them as such is futile public policy. It wastes resources; it does not help the innocent children who need it (and deserve it) most; and, it damages a valuable American institution.

    For a large majority of children who live from birth to age 5 immersed in poverty, the experience has many cognitive, behavioral, and motivational consequences that impede the development of their academic skills and inhibit their performance on many academic tasks. As these children face the relentless challenges of academic development, the attitudes, habits and expectations taught during childhood in an inadequate household interfere persistently with the their efforts to learn in school.

    Impediments to the acquisition of academic skills and knowledge that are generated by a childhood in in an inadequate household confront such children at every academic turn. Every early failure to develop academically impedes the child’s later academic development. The longer this sequence is allowed to continue, the more generalized the deficits become, seeping into more and more areas of cognition and behavior.

    With the exception of certain conditions and events (like prenatal exposure to nicotine, alcohol and environmental lead), I do not suggest that a child born into poverty is in any meaningful sense instantly immune to education. What I do contend is that living in poverty tends strongly to “teach” a child attitudes, expectations and behaviors that, once adopted, are inconsistent with successful academic achievement and successful adult life. The result is a wildly disproportionate fraction of such children who seem to be either education-resistant or education-proof, despite 47 years of honest efforts by K-12 teachers.

    It is not household poverty, per se, that does the damage. Rather, the things that do the damage are simply far more likely to be lurking in impoverished households.

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