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Recommendations to the President and Secretary of Education

Even as the United States tackles the immediate economic crisis, our long-term economic competitiveness and ability to deal with global military and environmental challenges urgently requires citizens prepared for the interconnected world of the 21st century. This national challenge demands immediate action by our 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.

To succeed in this new global era, we need not only to increase the number of high school graduates and improve the rigor of our math and science curriculum, but also to ensure that our graduates are globally competent. While definitions of “global competence” and “international education” vary, it is generally agreed to include:

  • knowledge of other world regions, cultures, economies, and global issues;
  • skills to communicate in languages other than English, to work in cross-cultural teams, and to assess information from different sources around the world; and
  • values of respect for other cultures.

“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 U.S. education system is already lagging behind some of its economic competitors, and the signatories to the policy paper 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 U.S. is ranked 18th among developed nations) and math and science standards (among thirty Organisation for Economic and Co-Operative Development (OECD) member countries, the United States ranked 25th in mathematics and 21st in science), while producing graduates who lack the world knowledge, skills, and perspectives to be successful in this global era.

American business leaders will only succeed if they have employees with knowledge of overseas markets and foreign languages in order to market products and services worldwide. “The more our young people know about the cultural context in which they are operating, the better their competence as business leaders,” says Charles Kolb, President of the Committee for Economic Development, an organization of Fortune 500 business leaders. And most of the global challenges facing the United States will only be solved through international collaboration. ”Now is the time to broaden the curriculum to include international aspects and prepare our students to be citizens in the global 21st century,” said John Wilson, Executive Director of the National Education Association.

What follows are recommendations to ensure every student has a world of opportunities. The future is here. It’s global, multicultural, multilingual, and digitally connected. If we put the world into world-class education, not only will we be more successful and innovative in the global economy, but we will lay an important foundation for peace and a shared global future.

National Policy Recommendations
With the education of our citizens and America’s standing as a world leader at stake, we urge the new President and 111th Congress to make graduating globally competent citizens a national priority and to provide the leadership necessary to make strategic new investments in education that address this challenge.

Five key policy areas should be addressed:

  • Providing states with incentives to internationally benchmark their educational systems and standards against other countries. OECD has begun to identify common characteristics of educationally high performing countries including: high ambitions and universally high standards; serious attention to equity, diversity, and individualized learning; systems for recruiting, preparing, and supporting high-quality teachers and school leaders; and  combining universal standards with substantial autonomy for schools. Incentives should be provided to states to benchmark their performance against other countries and support more work in this area so that policymakers can examine the highest performing schools and also those rapidly improving countries that will compete for American jobs and expertise.
  • Redesigning and creating middle and high schools to address equity, excellence, and global competence for all students. In the 20th century, the United States was the first in the world to achieve universal primary and secondary education.  However universal access has not produced universal high school graduation. On graduation rates as well as international tests of student achievement, our students have fallen behind students in half of other advanced countries. Focused efforts are needed to support state and local initiatives to redesign middle and high schools to raise high school graduation rates and transform schools to create college-ready and globally competent graduates.
  • Investing in our education leaders and teachers’ capacity to teach the international dimensions of their subjects.  Partnerships should be stimulated across all levels of government, the community, and the private sector to provide opportunities for teachers, principals, and teacher educators to acquire the knowledge and skills needed for the 21st century including: updating their knowledge of world regions, economics, and global challenges; understanding how to work as part of international teams to address these challenges; and the ability to communicate across cultures.
  • Building national capacity in world languages from pre-school through college. To increase our capacity to communicate in other languages, instruction must start in the early grades and continue through high school and college, making use of interactive technologies and effective practices such as immersion and dual-language programs. A federal, state, and local partnership could dramatically increase the pipeline of language learners, especially in languages that have been identified as critical to America’s economic competitiveness and national security. 
  • Expanding federal programs that support the engagement of American students and teachers with the rest of the world. Whereas 0.5 percent of U.S. college students studied abroad in 2000, the comparable figures were 3 percent for France and China, 16 percent for Ireland, and 30 percent for Singapore. Only 50 percent of U.S. high school students take even one year of a foreign language. In many other countries, education leaders study education practices internationally, teachers are encouraged to study abroad, schools are encouraged to form sister-school partnerships with schools in other countries, and all students learn a second language. We need to do far more to encourage our students and teachers to experience other cultures both at home and abroad.

”Now is the time to broaden the curriculum to include international aspects and prepare our students to be citizens in the global 21st century,” said John Wilson, Executive Director of the National Education Association. 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.

Asia Society
Alliance for Excellent Education
Committee for Economic Development
Council of Chief State School Officers
National Association of Secondary Schools Principal
National Education Association
National Middle School Association