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THE COMPETITION THAT REALLY MATTERS: India and China Will ‘Race to the Top’ Unless U.S. Focuses on Education Policy, New Report Finds

“The race for intellectual and innovative superiority will be won by the best and the brightest—no matter where they come from—and now, the talent pool is growing bigger than ever.”

Compared to India and China, the United States lacks leadership and direction on education policy, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress and the Center for the Next Generation. It finds that China and India have designed strategic national plans that center around education policy, placing them in prime position to surpass the United States in global competitiveness.

“Economists of all stripes point to a robust pipeline of skilled workers as the essential ingredient of a strong and growing economy,” the report, The Competition That Really Matters: Comparing U.S., Chinese, and Indian Investments in the Next-Generation Workforce, notes. “The race for intellectual and innovative superiority will be won by the best and the brightest—no matter where they come from—and now, the talent pool is growing bigger than ever.”

There is no question that the United States has a rich history of graduating superior minds, but in recent years, progress has stagnated, the report finds. Educational attainment and achievement gaps persist, and in some places continue to deepen. These gaps are particularly disconcerting and harmful to future competitiveness because they disproportionately exist within African American and Hispanic communities. These minority groups will soon make up a majority of American children. If they are underserved in their education, how can America continue to lead in an increasingly globalized, skilled workforce?

They cannot, according to the report, noting that only half of U.S. children receive early childhood education, and there is no national strategy to increase that number. Additionally, a mere 76 percent of high school students receive a diploma.

Meanwhile, China and India continue to make great strides in improving their education systems. China committed to a strategic education strategy as part of its economic revitalization strategy in the 1970s. Since then, China has become the world’s largest provider of higher education and surpassed the United States in the number of college graduates focusing on science, math, engineering, and technology (STEM) fields in 2007. According to the report, China will have 200 million college graduates—more than the entire U.S. workforce—by 2030. Children in China begin studying a foreign language in third grade and continue through middle school, and teachers continue to be better qualified and equipped with higher degrees.

“China’s momentum and its education-focused economic strategy will make the country increasingly competitive in sophisticated industries—precisely those where U.S. workers now lead the competition,” the report notes.

Similar advancements are occurring in India. According to the report, India will graduate 20 million students from high school by 2017, nearly five times the number in the United States. Of course, having a significantly larger population helps India in this regard. The report notes India has tripled its education funding over the last two and a half decades and has placed a significant focus on early childhood education and on ensuring universal primary school enrollment.

With China and India’s robust education policies producing skilled, educated innovators and thinkers, will the United States continue to stagnate or rise to the challenges presented by these two developing powers?

To meet this dual challenge from China and India, the United States should focus more attention on early childhood education and keep its commitment to the Common Core State Standards, the report finds. It also recommends that the United States focus on teenage work experience—including work-based learning, such as apprenticeships and internships—and increase parental involvement in educational development. It calls on the president of the United States, in 2013, to convene the governors for a National Education Summit to create a strategic, visionary plan to move forward that will improve educational outcomes nationwide. “The problems in the United States … are not due to a lack of understanding of how to improve and focus our school system,” the report notes. “The problems are related to the political will to do it.”

The Competition That Really Matters is available at

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