Re-Cap of U.S. Chamber ICW Event: A Smarter America = A Safer America
Yesterday, the report by the Council on Foreign Relations, “U.S. Education Reform and National Security,” was released at an event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The keynote was delivered by Preston “Pete” Geren, former Secretary of the Army and current president of the Sid W. Richardson Foundation, who gave a shocking summary of the report. He likened the country’s situation to the old story of a frog and boiling water. In the late 1950’s, Sputnik spurred our country into action on the space race, as if we had been dropped directly into boiling water. We jumped right out and managed to focus so clearly on our goals that we made it to the moon. However, in recent years there hasn’t been a “Sputnik moment” to spur us into action. We’ve just been sitting in our water as it boiled around us, but we haven’t been jumping high enough to escape and fix our situation. Part of the problem is we are being inefficient. The U.S. spends more per student than all but two other countries, to the tune of 700 billion dollars. However, even with this investment, we are still lagging behind, ranking 17th in science and 25th in math. Only 20% of Americans can speak a language other than English, which has a direct effect on the nation’s ability to staff important positions in the State Department and our intelligence agencies. Additionally, three quarters of young people are ineligible to enlist in the armed forces, directly harming our national security. They can’t enlist due to a variety of reasons, each one of which is troubling just by themselves. Some are too physically unfit, some have criminal records, and worst of all, some cannot meet the academic requirements. 25% are automatically ineligible because they did not graduate high school, and of those who did graduate, nearly a third of them are unable to pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB. As Geren said in his keynote, a strong public education system is the foundation of our country. Millions of jobs will be added over the next decade, and most will require some sort of diploma or degree to perform properly. However, with the state of the schools, there will be a severe shortage of qualified individuals.
After the keynote came the first panel, a discussion of the report by Pete Geren, Evan Stone, and Dr. Dave McIntyre. It was moderated by Margaret Spellings, the President of the Institute for a Competitive Workforce. Dr. McIntyre talked about how the U.S. took lessons from the past about education and preparedness, how being prepared and planning ahead can mean the difference between success and failure. Stone expanded on this, talking about the 1983 report “A Nation at Risk” that warned about this issue. Even with this warning, very little action was taken. The panel then turned to discussing how to get the public involved and caring about education. Geren replied that just more people need to be made aware of what is going on. Stone said that what was needed was another, but larger “Sputnik moment” that would shock the country into action. McIntyre, however, thinks that we need to inspire the students themselves to succeed. If they can see themselves succeeding, then they would strive for it even if they were on their own. If they can’t see that, then it would be that much more difficult to help them. They all agreed that standards in education, in all subjects, need to be higher.
The next panel consisted of Stephen Barkanic, Patti Curtis, and Lou DiGioia, and was moderated by Keith Peden. Titled “Business Redefining Education,” it discussed how businesses could work with schools to make a difference in students’ educations. Mention was made of how directly education affects businesses; how only 50,000 people a year graduate with STEM degrees, and only some of them go on to work in a STEM field. This is nowhere near enough for the workforce, especially as the Baby Boomers retire over the next decade. That being said, they discussed how many companies have programs in place to encourage more students to enter STEM fields, such as Math Moves You, which inspires students with hands-on, real world applications of mathematics.
The closing remarks were given by Anthony Miller, the Deputy Secretary and COO of the Department of Education. He talked about how people today don’t really vote on education, because they see it as a non-issue. Everyone says they are for education, but they vote on topics like defense or healthcare. Like Geren said, part of what the report tried to do was link education to defense, to inspire those people who normally voted on defense to realize that education has a huge impact.