Critics of public education come from all sides: from parents, from politicians, from editorial boards, and from those who believe charter schools or private academies are wiser choices. If we’re not careful, that constant criticism can make it seem as if all U.S. schools are woefully under-performing and hopeless.
That’s not the case, of course.
Public education in America overflows with examples of successful schools, exemplary teachers and students who excel. To insinuate otherwise is flat-out wrong. That some states and some regions do better than others is a long-standing fact that doesn’t take away from public education’s value.
Yet, a warning issued Tuesday by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gives us pause. A 30-member task force organized by the Council on Foreign Relations and led by Rice and Joel Klein, the former chancellor of New York City’s school system, says specific failings of America’s schools are endangering U.S. security and economic prosperity.
Let’s be clear: This isn’t an indictment of American public education.
Instead, the Rice-Klein task force lays out detailed examples of how public schools’ struggles to produce graduates who excel in math, science, technology and foreign languages are hampering the U.S. military, security and economic agencies.
That other nations — such as China — are reaping the benefits of an education system that stresses math, science and technology has long been known. Tuesday, the Rice-Klein task force took that acknowledgement to another level. This nation’s political and educational leadership would be wise to devour its contents.
Among the most damning revelations, the task force reports, is that 75 percent of young adults in the United States do not qualify to serve in the military due to educational or physical deficiencies or because they have criminal records. What’s more, the task force says too many U.S. citizens aren’t savvy enough about global affairs, and that is “essential for understanding America’s allies and its adversaries.”
It’s enough to make even the most ardent defenders of American public education take notice. To refuse would be a mistake the United States must avoid.