Skip to main content

Rice, Klein: Education keeps America safe

By Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein, Special to CNN
March 20, 2012 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein say improving education is key to America's leadership and national security.
Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein say improving education is key to America's leadership and national security.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein: Education essential to America's strength, yet nation lags
  • They say education also key to national security; human capital important in world competitivess
  • They say knowledge of the world, U.S. civics, foreign languages crucial for leadership
  • Writers: U.S. must expand core standards, offer school choice, teach languages, computer skills

Editor's note: Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice lead the Independent Task Force on U.S. Education Reform and National Security, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. Klein served as chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, where he oversaw a system of more than 1,600 schools with 1.1 million students. He is CEO of the Education Division at News Corp. Rice served as the 66th U.S. secretary of State from 2005-2009. She is a professor at Stanford University (where she also served as provost) and a founding partner of The RiceHadley Group.

(CNN) -- The United States is an exceptional nation. As a people, we are not bound by blood, nationality, ethnicity or religion. Instead, we are connected by the core belief that it does not matter where you came from; it matters only where you are going. This belief is what makes our country unique. It is also what makes education critically important, more so today than ever.

While our political leanings may be different, our careers have taught us that education is inextricably linked to the strength of this country and our leadership in the international community.

Condoleezza Rice
Condoleezza Rice

Today, globalization and the technological sophistication of our economy are widening already troubling socioeconomic disparities, rewarding those who acquire the right skills and punishing brutally those who do not. Much is at stake.

Joel Klein
Joel Klein

It is not hyperbole to say that the state of education in our country is a challenge to our national security. Human capital has never been more important for success in our increasingly competitive world economy. Yet, although the United States invests more in education than almost any other developed nation, its students rank in the middle of the pack in reading and toward the bottom in math and science. On average, U.S. students have fallen behind peers in Korea and China, Poland and Canada and New Zealand. This puts us on a trajectory toward massive failure.

Our schools simply must do better. It is essential, too, that we provide a base of knowledge for our students in order to produce citizens who can serve in the Foreign Service, the intelligence community and the armed forces. The State Department is struggling to recruit enough foreign language speakers, U.S. generals are cautioning that enlistees cannot read training manuals for sophisticated equipment, and a report from the XVIII Airborne Corps in Iraq found that out of 250 intelligence personnel, fewer than five had the "aptitude to put pieces together to form a conclusion."

Schools of Thought blog: Report calls education a national security issue

For the United States to maintain its role of military and diplomatic leadership, it needs highly qualified and capable men and women to conduct its foreign affairs. Knowledge of the world and of foreign languages is essential.

Finally, we must also foster a deeper understanding of America's core institutions and values. Successfully educating our young people about our country, its governmental institutions and values — what is sometimes called "civics" — is crucial to our coherence as a population and for informed citizenry.

A year ago, we brought together leaders in education, politics, business, academia and the armed forces and diplomatic communities to assess the nation's educational challenges in the context of national security. We believe education is posing direct threats to our nation: to economic growth, to intellectual property and competitiveness, to the protection of U.S. physical safety and to U.S. global awareness, unity and cohesion.

Based on our consultations with these leaders, we offer three recommendations that build upon our core American strengths and the work already under way in schools, districts and states across the nation. America must compete successfully globally, but reform must have a distinctly American character, tapping our creativity, capacity for innovation and the power of competition. Our recommendations are as follows:

• Implement educational expectations and assessments in subjects vital to protecting national security. States should expand the Common Core State Standards and implement assessments that more meaningfully measure student achievement. Children in every state must have strong foundations in science, technology, and foreign language, and skills like creative thinking and problem solving if they are to be competitive nationally and globally.

• Make structural changes to provide all students with meaningful choices. States and school districts should give parents a much wider range of educational options so children are not trapped in failing schools. Choice is especially important for poor parents who are more likely to live in districts with underperforming schools; mobility gives these children vital options. Enhanced choice and competition among schools, in an environment of equitable resource allocation, will fuel the innovation necessary to transform results.

• Launch a "national security readiness audit" to hold schools and policymakers accountable for results and to raise public awareness. We need a stronger and more coordinated effort to assess school-level information — from basic educational outcomes, like the proportion of students passing courses and graduating from high school to specific national security-related skills, such as mastering foreign languages and computer skills.

America's greatest strengths stem from the freedom to innovate, create, compete and succeed. Without a wide base of educated and capable citizens, our strengths will fade, and the United States will lose its capacity to lead in the international community.

We embarked on this project because we believe the crucial question for our generation is whether, on our watch, the American dream becomes the American memory.

We hope and believe that if the country refocuses and reprioritizes, the American dream can be sustained for future generations.

Follow us on Twitter: @CNNOpinion

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Joel I. Klein and Condoleezza Rice.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT