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U.S. EDUCATION REFORM AND NATIONAL SECURITY: New Report Says United States’s Failure to Educate Its Students Is National Security Threat

“National security is broader than what you can do with your military forces,” Rice told National Public Radio (NPR) in an interview. “When it comes to the very tangible assets that the United States needs to defend itself—the education of people who can be soldiers—too many people can’t qualify.”

The failure of the United States to educate its children adequately leaves the nation’s economy and national security at risk, according to a new report from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The report pinpoints a mediocre high school graduation rate, a persistent racial and economic achievement gap, and civic apathy as critical components that result in students who are unprepared to compete globally. This shortfall, the report argues, threatens the country’s competiveness and standing as a leader in the global economy.

The report, U.S. Education Reform and National Security, from the CFR-sponsored Independent Task Force, draws attention to the fact that American students lag far behind their international peers in reading, mathematics, and science, despite investing more in K–12 education than any other developed country in the world. The Task Force—led by Joel I. Klein, former chancellor of New York City Schools, andCondoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State—is comprised of prominent education experts, national security authorities, and corporate leaders. The panel concludes that the substandard performance of America’s youth jeopardizes the country in five critical national security areas: (1) economic growth and competitiveness, (2) global awareness, (3) national unity and cohesion, (4) physical safety, and (5) intellectual property.

“Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America’s security,” the report states. “Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy.”

According to the report, an increasing number of young people are ineligible for the high-skilled jobs that are beginning to dominate the global economy due to a deficit in science, math, and reading skills. That lack of adequate education, as well as criminal records and an inability to meet basic qualifications of physical fitness, mean that too many young people are unable to enlist for military service. Consequently, vacancies for needed personnel in national and cyber security professions are left unfilled, causing a threat to the nation, the report finds.

“National security is broader than what you can do with your military forces,” Rice told National Public Radio (NPR) in an interview. “When it comes to the very tangible assets that the United States needs to defend itself—the education of people who can be soldiers—too many people can’t qualify.”

The report highlights graduation rates as a key factor jeopardizing the future prosperity of the United States. Because of disparities between the education skills and workforce demands, poorly educated and semi-skilled Americans cannot compete for jobs and struggle to contribute to society. Additionally, a shortage of students in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields makes it difficult for defense-related employers, both in the governmental and private sectors, to find qualified candidates. Furthermore, the lack of foreign-language speakers in the United States is leaving important job vacancies in the U.S. Foreign Service, the intelligence community, and American companies abroad unfilled, the report finds.

“The lack of language skills and civic and global awareness among American citizens increasingly jeopardizes their ability to interact with local and global peers or participate meaningfully in business, diplomatic, and military situations,” the report says.

The report also notes that too many American public schools have stopped teaching civics, resulting in students lacking knowledge of their own national history, traditions, and values. At the same time, students have become ignorant of other cultures of the world, meaning students are unprepared to exercise basic rights or fulfill core responsibilities.

Inequity in education is one of the most influential contributors to the nation’s declining global economic and security imprint according to the report. It contends that resources and expertise are not distributed equitably, thus students who face the greatest academic hardships have access to fewer resources and are exposed to unqualified teachers and principals.

“Today, the sad fact is that, for the children who have the fewest options, the educational system is not delivering. If I can look at your zip code and I can tell whether you’re going to get a good education, we’ve got a real problem,” Rice told NPR.

To combat this epidemic in the American education system, the report makes three policy recommendations:

(1) Implement educational expectations and assessments in subjects vital to protecting national security. Specifically, the report recommends that states expand the common core state standards to include STEM and foreign language, thereby ensuring that students are mastering the skills and knowledge necessary to safeguard the country’s national security.
(2) Make structural changes to provide students with good choices and “stop locking disadvantaged students into failing schools without any options.”
(3) Launch a “national security readiness audit” that includes the creation of “more meaningful assessments and simulations of student learning” to hold schools and policymakers accountable for results while raising public awareness.


The task force expressed hope that consideration of America’s education failings as a national security threat will mobilize new constituents, energize advocates, spur policymakers into action, and attract increased investments in reform efforts. “Calling the crisis in education a national security concern is not a gimmick or an empty phrase,” the report reads. “With a failing economy, a stalemated political system, and a waning international presence, the United States stands at a crossroads. Americans can either accept U.S. decline or can come together to support and implement fundamental and radical changes that put the country back on track to fulfilling its promise and potential.”

The report also includes dissenting views written by members of the task force who endorsed the report, but disagreed with certain aspects of it. Download the report at

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