By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor
Positive news this week about incrementally higher graduation rates was put in harsh perspective yesterday when Condoleezza Rice named our failures in education as a threat to national security. Rice is part of a task force on education and national security that released a scary report about how ill-prepared our students are – and the threat it poses to our national standing.
Part of the problem is that we’re not producing high school grads who can fill crucial posts in our military. According to the task force’s report published this month, the Department of Defense estimates that 75 percent of American youth are ineligible to serve in the military because they didn't graduate from high school, are obese, or have criminal records. And, of those who do graduate and might be eligible for the military, almost a third can’t pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test.
But the list goes on, and it’s not just that kids aren’t finishing school – it’s that they’re not learning enough even if they do:
- Only about 25% of U.S. students test proficient or better in civics.
- About eight out of ten Americans speak only English (and fewer and fewer schools teach foreign languages).
- A recent report by ACT found that only 22 percent of our high school students are "college ready" in all core subjects.
And, in case you’re thinking ‘well, it’s not my kid – my kid’s going to college’:
- Even among seniors headed to college, the College Board reported that only 43 percent meet college-ready standards.
No matter what your stance on the military and national defense, the uncomfortable reality is that this isn’t just about our armed forces, we need Americans to fill crucial roles in government, intelligence, and foreign service. To this end, former Secretary of State Rice told Charlie Rose yesterday, "national security is much broader than what you can do with your military forces - but of course, even there we are falling short." The report synopsis tidily touches on five areas where our education system is failing to prepare students in ways that affect national security, they are: economic growth and competitiveness, physical safety, intellectual property, U.S. global awareness, and U.S. unity and cohesion.
Obviously, this is a national issue, and better education funding and prioritizing education as a cultural value would be crucial steps in the right direction. The task force supports expanding the Common Core Standards to encompass more subjects than just English and math as an effort to standardize what kids are learning (and raise the learning curve). But if and when such reforms will be adopted is up in the air (and it's hard to be optimistic that they'll happen any time soon, given the current budget-cutting climate).
But we don't have to wait around and hope for the best. If language programs at our schools have been cut, for example, we can work with other parents to push for their reinstatement, or, if that doesn't work, look for affordable programs outside of school. We can teach civic awareness at home around the dinner table. And we can take advantage of museums, libraries, and daily teaching moments to get kids used to learning outside the classroom, too. What else can parents do – right here, right now – to help their kids be educated, prepared, and competitive? What, if anything, are you doing?