The Real Competition: Educating Our Kids For The Global Economy
In the afterglow of the London Olympics, where the United States won the medal count, it is now time to focus on a domestic contest that will determine our future viability in the real world – the competition that really matters.
The central question before us, and what should be the central question for the 2012 presidential contenders, is how to ensure America’s economic edge in the 21st century in a more globalized world. Not just for today and tomorrow, but for years to come. How do we, as a country, compare with our global competitors in supporting and investing in our most valuable asset, our children?
A new report from our organizations, “The Competition that Really Matters: Comparing U.S., Chinese and Indian Investments in the Next Generation Workforce,” reveals how China, India and other nations have embarked on bold, ambitious programs to prepare more of their young people for the challenges – and the well-paying jobs – of the global marketplace. They are investing more than ever in their future while the United States is fighting to keep up.
A public opinion survey that accompanies the report suggests that Americans want better from their leaders in addressing future prospects for their kids. Asked, for example, what medal they would give members of Congress for their performance on education – gold, silver or bronze—only 4 percent said they were worthy of gold while almost half said they would fail to reach the medal stand.
As national leaders dither and debate how to reform education and state officials slash education funding to balance budgets, China and India have implemented strategies that will invest in a child’s education and produce millions more college graduates over the next two decades than the United States will. This trend intensifies America’s need to improve education at every level, from early childhood through post-graduate.
Here’s a sense of what we’re up against: Between 2000 and 2008, China graduated 1.14 million people in the STEM subjects while the U.S. graduated 496,000 and by 2020 will produce 200 million college graduates, more than the entire U.S. workforce. By 2017, India will graduate 20 million people from high school—five times as many as the United States—and by 2020, India will produce four times as many college graduates as the U.S.
The jobs of the future, especially in the critical need areas of science, math and technology, will go to the brainiest, no matter what country they come from. As the world’s most populous nations, China and India are poised to out-think and out-compete us by their sheer numbers. China is already graduating over 1 million college graduates a year in the areas of science, technology and mathematics while the United States graduates fewer than half that number.
What we’re doing now is clearly not enough, and imagine what will happen in the years to come if investment recedes.
Voters of all political stripes are saying we need a different approach, and they’re open to paying for it.
Our survey asked if people would be willing to pay more in taxes for pre-kindergarten programs, K-12 education and college/higher education programs. In each case, more than half said they would—even if it meant reducing other domestic spending. The commitment to increasing investments in K-12 education was particularly strong, with even a majority of Republicans willing to increase taxes for better classroom performance.
Voters also want more from political leaders. When it comes to restoring America's leadership in education and increasing investment in education, 78 percent of our respondents said they would like the next president to make it a “high” priority, with more than 4 in 10 wanting it as his “top” priority. The responses for Congress and governors were almost the same.
There’s a way to get this done, starting with the new president convening a national summit on education in early 2013, co-sponsored by the National Governors Association, as a renewed commitment to improving educational outcomes for all American children:
- Set realistic, yet rigorous, national goals and devise a bi-partisan plan to achieve them, building on the Common Core Standards adopted by 45 states, which outline what K-12 students need for success in college or workforce training programs.
- Place a high priority on training, supporting and retaining highly-effective teachers.
- Increase investment in early education and workplace policies that allow parents more involvement with their children.
We can’t afford any more missed opportunities. Even in an era of extreme political partisanship, America’s children are too valuable of a national asset to abandon. They deserve better from our leaders, who need to recommit to the challenges of the future, join forces and devise effective strategies to put America on top and keep her there. While there’s a lot of talk about economic growth in this year’s presidential race, the fact is that other countries recognize their most prized economic resources are their kids. It’s past time for America to catch up—if we don’t, we can’t promise our kids that this century will belong to America.
As we head into this fall’s elections and debates, let’s hear from candidates at ALL levels about what they would do to address our growing gap in commitment to education. Our kids deserve to know how our leaders plan to ensure we remain a true leader in education.
That’s the only medal competition that counts.