In last night’s final presidential debate on foreign policy, both candidates continued to address the importance of education. While traditional foreign policy experts might not place education at the top of the agenda, the truth is that it’s one of the greatest tools in our national security toolkit, and one that could use some sharpening.
A recent report exploring the intersection of education and national security noted “American education is vital to sustaining the nation’s international leadership and competitiveness” and advocated for key reforms to improve our education system. The report, issued by a task force led by former NYC Schools Chancellor (and SFNY Board Member) Joel Klein and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, highlighted several concerns, including:
More than 25% of students – and more than 40% of African American and Hispanic students – do not graduate from high school within four years, and too many of those that do graduate are neither college nor career ready;
Students are not learning basic civic, foreign language, and other essential skills to engage and excel in a global community;
Too many students cannot meet even the most basic standards to serve in the armed forces, Foreign Service, or intelligence agencies; and
American students are falling behind their peers from other countries, threatening the nation’s competitive standing as a leader in innovation.
Possibly the most troubling revelation from the report is the divided class structure that is emerging in America as a result of a divided allocation of education opportunities. When one part of society has access to great teachers, great schools, and a great education, and the other part does not, the country faces a severe risk of domestic division that will tear at the fabric and cohesion essential for a strong, united nation.
We have long been a country rooted in the belief that regardless of your past, hard work and persistence can lead to a better future. But the starting line for too many of our young people is too uneven. Education must be the force that evens the race if we hope to keep the basic promise of the American Dream alive. And as Klein and Rice mention in the report, we cannot let the “American Dream become the American memory on our watch.”
For America to maintain influence abroad and stability at home, our country’s leaders must make education reform a top priority. Among other policy reforms, the report recommends that states expand Common Core standards and provide parents with enhanced school choices fueled by a more equitable allocation of resources. These recommendations, coupled with a focus on elevating the teaching profession, will advance the quality of our classrooms and ensure that the greatest country in the world has the greatest education system in the world.