"The Task Force urges governors to collectively create expectations for language learning and world culture and history, which would boost the next generation’s cross-cultural competence and practical ability to communicate."
The Council on Foreign Relations has just released its “Independent Task Force Report No. 68” on “U.S. Education Reform and National Security” (here). It is a bit of a disappointment. It does say many of the obvious things that need to be said about the relationship between our education system and our national security. But it does not discuss the fundamental changes taking place in global economic and geopolitical affairs that call for educational responses. There is nothing in the report on the rise of China or the need of the US to export more, for examples. I wonder at the placement of a brief blurb for Charles Kupchan new book No One’s World on the same page as the announcement of the Task Force Report (here, with my blog on Kupchan’s book here). Did no one think of the implications of Kupchan’s book for our educational system.
Their recommendations for improved foreign language and cross cultural education programs, while OK in a general way, do not show any familiarity with the local and state political fights taking place over foreign language immersion programs, high school study abroad programs, or online foreign language programs. I saw nothing in the reports on Utah’s expansion of immersions programs (here, here), my proposals for states or school districts to pay for high school study abroad (here), or the potential of online education to make a broad variety of foreign language courses available to students all across the US. To someone like me trying to make international issues a part of mainstream educational reform efforts, this Task Force Report seems more an effort to make mainstream (if contested) educational reform efforts national security concerns (which they are) than an effort to make some additional national security concerns parts of educational reform. Both, of course, weave together. I just find the balance off.
If I were grading the Task Force Report, I would give it a “C.” I am glad the Council on Foreign Relations published the report. It give us real issues to discuss.
From page xiii:
When we as chairs convened this Task Force, we asked, Why is K-12 public school education a national security issue?
First, it is critical that children in the United States be prepared for futures in a globalized world. They must master essential reading, writing, math, and science skills, acquire foreign languages, learn about the world, and—importantly—understand America’s core institutions and values in order to be engaged in the community and in the international system.
Second, the United States must produce enough citizens with critical skills to fill the ranks of the Foreign Service, the intelligence community, and the armed forces. For the United States to maintain its military and diplomatic leadership role, it needs highly qualified and capable men and women to conduct its foreign affairs.
Third, the state of America’s education system has consequences for economic competitiveness and innovation. No country in the twenty first century can be truly secure by military might alone. The dominant power of the twenty-first century will depend on human capital. The failure to produce that capital will undermine American security.
Finally, the United States cannot be two countries—one educated and one not, one employable and one not. Such a divide would undermine the country’s cohesion and confidence and America’s ability and willingness to lead. Opportunity and promise for all Americans are bedrock principles upon which this country was founded.
From page 5:
After elucidating the linkages between education and national security, exploring the current state of education in America and international comparisons, and identifying the core skills students need to learn, the Task Force proposes three overarching policy recommendations:
–– Implement educational expectations and assessments in subjects vital to protecting national security. With the support of the federal government and industry partners, states should expand the Common Core State Standards, ensuring that students are mastering the skills and knowledge necessary to safeguard the country’s national security. Science, technology, and foreign languages are essential—as are creative problem-solving skills and civic awareness. Across America, and especially in underserved communities, it is essential that necessary resources accompany these enhanced standards to fuel successful implementation.
–– Make structural changes to provide students with good choices. States and districts should stop locking disadvantaged students into failing schools without any options; this is bad for the students and bad for the United States as a whole. Enhanced choice and competition, 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. There should be a coordinated, national effort to assess whether students are learning the skills and knowledge necessary to safeguard America’s future security and prosperity. The results should be publicized to engage the American people in addressing problems.
From page 15:
However, roughly eight in ten Americans speak only English, and a decreasing number of schools are teaching foreign languages.31 This failure to teach foreign languages (and a parallel failure to take advantage of the native language skills of immigrants) disadvantages Americans with respect to citizens of other countries, many of whom speak more than one language. For example, more than 35 percent of Canadians and 56 percent of Europeans speak more than one language.
The Task Force does not necessarily believe that every U.S. student should be reading Chinese; indeed, too many are not reading English well enough. However, the group is troubled by the language deficit, and fears that it will prevent U.S. citizens from participating and competing meaningfully, whether in business or diplomatic situations. It will also have a negative impact on government agencies and corporations attempting to hire people knowledgeable about other countries or fluent in foreign languages.
And from page 47:
Foreign Language Expectations
Americans’ failure to learn strategic languages, coupled with a lack of formal instruction about the history and cultures of the rest of the world, limits U.S. citizens’ global awareness, cross-cultural competence, and ability to assess situations and respond appropriately in an increasingly interconnected world.
The Task Force does not argue that all U.S. children should begin studying strategic languages and cultures. However, the opportunity to learn these languages and about the people who speak them should be available to many students across the United States, and all students should have access to high-quality foreign language programs starting in the earliest grades. If all Americans grew up proficient in at least one language in addition to English, and if instruction about other countries’ histories and culture were built into the standard K-12 curriculum, young people would develop better understandings of world cultures and be better equipped to converse, collaborate, and compete with peers worldwide.
Therefore, the Task Force urges governors to collectively create expectations for language learning and world culture and history, which would boost the next generation’s cross-cultural competence and practical ability to communicate.