Condoleezza Rice on Education: American Dream on Verge of Collapse

If America doesn't reform education, security and upward mobility will suffer, she warns.

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America's national security and the upward mobility the country was built upon could collapse if the education system isn't rapidly improved, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Tuesday.

"If you look at why [Americans] are here or why their parents are here or their grandparents are here, someone believed that in the United States of America, if you worked hard, you could have a better life. That's what set us apart," she told a group at the Council on Foreign Relations. "It's fragile, and we have to make sure that's [still] true. If it ever becomes not true because the education system can't deliver it, then there's no hope of rebuilding it."

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Rice and former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein co-chaired a task force that looked into the relationship between education reform and America's national security. American students have fallen into the second tier of achievement when compared to international competitors such as China, South Korea, and many European countries. That failure threatens America's economic future, its physical safety, ability to protect cyber assets, awareness of other cultures, and the country's sense of unity, the report warns.

The task force said America should throw its support behind and expand the Common Core State Standards—benchmarks in English and math that have been adopted by all but five states—to other subjects; provide more school choice to students, so they are not stuck in "dropout factories" that graduate a low percentage of students; and launch a "National Security Readiness Audit" that would determine whether students are learning national security skills such as foreign languages and computer programming.

[U.S. News's Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education Center]

According to the report, America's educational system is "not adequately preparing its citizens to protect America or its national interests." The Department of Defense estimates that 75 percent of young Americans are not eligible to serve in the military because they didn't graduate from high school, are obese, or have criminal records. "Among recent high school graduates who are eligible to apply, 30 percent score too low on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery to be recruited."

At the Council on Foreign Relations event, Klein said that the country's fading education system is threatening America's identity. If the education system fails, there's no Plan B, he said.

"If people don't believe they can get a fair shake with education, then I think the [national] cohesion erodes," he added.