Report Finds Failing Education Jeopardizes National Security

June 15, 2012

By Sheryll Poe, Senior Writer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Declines in U.S. education performance are jeopardizing U.S. national security, including the country’s ability to compete in a high-skill global marketplace, according to a recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Members of the business community, administration officials and national security and education experts gathered at the U.S. Chamber to discuss the report and renew their commitment to improving the education system. The “A Smarter America = A Safer America” event was hosted by the Institute for a Competitive Workforce and was a precursor to the June 19 event to release  ICW’s Leaders and Laggards report on postsecondary education.

“There is a crisis facing this country, but there’s also a unique opportunity for change,” said Department of Education Deputy Secretary and COO Anthony Wilder Miller. “I see beacons of hope, but we’re not moving fast enough to get to scale.”

By almost every measure, U.S. schools are failing to provide the kind of education society will need to ensure American leadership in the twenty-first century, according to Pete Geren, president of the Sid W. Richardson Foundation. As a former Secretary of the Army, Geren says he’s seen first-hand the impact that the education system has on the quality of the Army defending the country.

A recent study on military readiness found that 75% of U.S. citizens between the ages of seventeen and twenty-four are not qualified to join the military because they are physically unfit, have criminal records, or have inadequate levels of education. The 25% of students who  drop-out of high school are unqualified to serve, as are the approximately 30% of high school graduates who do graduate but do not know enough math, science, and English to perform well on the mandatory Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.

Of even greater concern, Geren says, is that U.S. State Department and intelligence agencies are facing critical language shortfalls in areas of strategic interest, and 63% of life science and aerospace firms report shortages of qualified workers. Without qualified employees, progress on military and defense products vital to the nation’s security will come to a halt, he warned.

What’s needed, according to several panelists at the event, is a “Sputnik moment,” that would spur the government and the public into making education a higher priority.

The biggest obstacle to overcome is public apathy. “People might not be paying much attention to education, but they do pay attention to national security and when to make them aware of the linkage, they get involved,” Geren says.