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America Losing Ground in Global Competitiveness by not Preparing its Students for New Economy

Dec 16, 2008
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Asia Society and six national education organizations call on President-elect Obama and Congress to prioritize international education as part of economic recovery

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, D.C., December 16, 2008—Even as the United States tackles the immediate economic crisis, its long-term economic competitiveness and ability to deal with global challenges is being undermined because America is not sufficiently preparing its next generation for the interconnected world of the 21st century. This national challenge demands immediate action by its new President and Congress, working with the nation's governors, educators, and business leaders, to create internationally competitive education systems that are held to world-class standards. To do this, the United States must benchmark its educational system against international standards and practices, redesign high schools to prepare graduates who are college-ready and globally competent, invest in teacher training in international subject matter, expand national capacity for learning world languages—particularly Chinese and Arabic—and expand international teacher and student exchange programs, says a national education report released today that was produced by the Asia Society and endorsed by six leading national education and business organizations.

Asia Society, a non-profit educational organization, together with the Alliance for Excellent Education, Committee for Economic Development, Council of Chief State School Officers, National Association of Secondary Schools Principals, National Education Association, and National Middle Schools Association, presented the report entitled Putting the World into World-Class Education, to incoming administration officials and members of Congress, urging them to ensure that every student has access to a world-class education and to strengthen our capacity to produce globally competent graduates.

For America to remain competitive in the 21st century, it urgently needs a far more internationally competent workforce. "If we do not reinvent education for a new era, our children will simply not be able to compete in the global economy," said James B. Hunt Jr. former four-term governor of North Carolina and trustee of Asia Society. "As never before, American education must prepare students for a world where the opportunities for success require the ability to compete and collaborate on a global scale."

The US education system is already lagging behind some of its economic competitors, and the signatory organizations strongly believe that it will only worsen if immediate action is not taken. The United States can no longer afford to be lagging behind other countries in high school graduation rates (currently the US is ranked 18th among developed nations) and math and science standards (the US ranked 25th among the 30 OECD member countries in mathematics and 21st in science in 2006), while producing graduates who lack the world knowledge to be successful in this global era.

Graduating from high school, however, will not be enough for students to succeed in the 21st century. In our increasingly interconnected world, graduates also need knowledge of other world regions, economies, languages, and global issues. Asia Society and National Geographic surveys show that US students were next to last out of 14 industrial countries in their knowledge of world regions and current events. And while learning a second language from elementary school on is standard in other industrial countries, only about one-half of U.S. high school students study a foreign language, the majority never go beyond the introductory level and 70 percent study Spanish.

Putting the World into World-Class Education identified 5 key areas that should be immediately addressed:

* Providing states with incentives to benchmark their educational systems against other countries and strengthen their capacity to meet international standards.
* Redesigning middle and high schools to prepare all students to be college-ready and globally competent.
* Investing in education leaders and teachers' capacity to teach the international dimensions of their subjects.
* Building national capacity in world languages, especially in languages critical to US security and competitiveness, starting in the early grades.
* Expanding federal programs that support the engagement of US students and teachers with the rest of the world.

The organizations recognize that there are many initiatives across the country to increase graduation rates and add global content and new languages to local schools but feel that these piecemeal efforts are inadequate. "Substantial and strategic new investments are needed in human capital, research, and proven practices and a federal, state, and local partnership must be created that focuses national attention on redesigning our schools for the 21st century," said Vivien Stewart, Vice President for Education at Asia Society. "The purpose of this partnership must be clear: to ensure our nation"s long-term economic competitiveness and national security by dramatically upgrading the skills of our graduates," the report said.

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For more information, contact Emily Howe, ProMedia Communications, [email protected], 212-245-0510.

Putting the World into World-Class Education is available at http://www.asiasociety.org/files/stateinnovations.pdf.