An Urgent Imperative

State Governments Respond to Globalization

State governments are leading the way in reforming schools so all students can take advantage of 21st century opportunities. Photo:
State governments are leading the way in reforming schools so all students can take advantage of 21st century opportunities. Photo:

States understand the complex reasons to prepare its young citizens for a globalized world. In summary, they are:

The Global Economy
Today, goods and services move seamlessly across borders. Already, one in five U.S. jobs is tied to international trade1 and the economies of China, India, and Japan, which represented 18 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2004, are expected to represent 50 percent of the world’s GDP within 30 years.2 The majority of future growth for small, medium, and large businesses is overseas. According to the Committee for Economic Development, a non-profi t organization of more than 200 business leaders and university presidents, “to compete successfully in the global marketplace, both U.S.-based multinational corporations as well as small businesses, increasingly need employees with knowledge of foreign languages and cultures to market products to customers around the globe and to work effectively with foreign employees and partners in other countries.”3

Security and Global Citizenship
The world is interconnected as never before. Every major issue faced by the United States has an international dimension — from environmental degradation and global warming, to pandemic diseases, to energy and water shortages, to terrorism and weapons proliferation. Th e eff ects of poverty, injustice, and lack of education elsewhere spill across borders. What we do aff ects others and the actions of others aff ect us. Th e only way to solve today’s challenges will be through international collaboration among governments and organizations of all kinds. U.S. graduates will need language and cross-cultural communication skills to be eff ective problem-solvers in today’s global context. U.S. citizens will also increasingly vote and act on issues requiring greater knowledge of the world.

Cultural Diversity within the United States
Not only will U.S. citizens need to work with citizens of other countries, but increasingly interact and work with people from vastly different backgrounds and cultures within their own communities. From 1993–2003, the population of minority students enrolled in U.S. public schools increased from 34 percent to 41 percent. Th e public school systems of California, Hawaii, Texas, and Washington D.C. enroll more than 60 percent minority populations, while the minority enrollments in Arizona, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, and New Mexico, all exceed 50 percent.4 Even small towns in the South are experiencing increased diversity with new populations from Asia and Latin America.

The Growing Global Talent Pool
In this increasingly interconnected world, there is a growing global talent pool. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) international comparisons have shown that the United States is 21st in the world in high school graduation rates and 23rd in student math performance. Asia Society and National Geographic
Society surveys have also shown that compared with their peers in other industrialized countries, U.S. high school students lag behind their peers in knowledge of other countries and cultures.5 And while learning a secondlanguage is standard in other industrial countries, only 50 percent of U.S. high school students study any foreign language.6 Our students are clearly at risk of being unprepared for the demands and opportunities of the global economy.

This is especially true for disadvantaged youth for whom American schools have historically fallen short. For low-income and minority students, closing the basic skills gap is an essential step, but real equality of opportunity will require all students to become college ready and globally competent. As education systems rapidly expand and improve in many parts of the world,we must engage all of our talent pool. Transforming our schools into learning communities for the 21st century requires policies and practices to ensure that we not only produce more high school graduates, but that those graduates are globally competent citizens, ready to take their place in the world community.


Authors: Vivien Stewart and Gene Wilhoit


1 U.S. Census Bureau. Table 2. In Exports from manufacturing establishments: 2001 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, 2004) 8.

2 Wilson, W.T. Th e Dawn of the India century: Why India is poised to challenge China and the United States for global economic hegemony in the
21st century. (Chicago: Keystone India, 2005). Link.

3 Committee for Economic Development. Education for global leadership: Th e importance of international studies and foreign language education for U.S. economic and national security. (Washington, DC, 2006). Link.

4 National Center for Education Statistics. Status and trends in the education of racial and ethnic minorities. 2007. Link.

5 National Geographic Society-Roperl. 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey. Washington, DC: 2002.

6 Draper, J.B. & Hicks, J.H.. Foreign language enrollments in secondary schools, fall 2000. (Washington, DC: American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 2002) Link.