Education: A Matter of National Security

According to a CNET article, former Democratic Senator Bill Bradley claimed national security is "going to be won the classrooms" and "A train wreck is going to happen unless we wake up in this country. " Bradley was speaking to a group of technology elites about education's inability to produce enough skilled workers. To change the situation, the former New Jersey Senator called for national standards, doubling teacher's salaries, and pay schemes based on student achievement. Bradley further went on to say it is time for the federal government to enforce national education standards because of the to produce the qualified workers needed for the future of our country. Anticipating critics who would cry local control of schools would be taken away he responds, "Well, sorry. This is a national issue."

This is not the first time education was considered a matter of national security. The National Defense Education Act of 1958, a response to the launching of Sputnik by the Soviet Union, provided the first federal funds for education. The purpose of the act was to increase math, science, and modern language abilities in students to counter a perceived education gap with the Soviets that threatened national security. In Senator Bradley's claim education is a matter of national security has validity. The ability of today's students to learn how to learn, problem solve, and work collaboratively is important. Considering the current war against a loosely organized terrorist group transcending the borders of sovereign nations, the argument that the future of our national security is in the classrooms has merit. The military is constantly reviewing its strategy and tactics and developing new ones to achieve its objectives with the constraints set by civilian authorities.

One of the biggest problems with the No Child Left Behind law is the fact that while every student is supposed to show they are learning according to standards, each state develops those standards and definitions of success. This inconsistency further hinders the ability to produce highly skilled and adaptable workers needed to meet the challenges of the future. National standards can be achieved with continued local control of schools. Adopting national standards could free school boards and district administrations to concentrate more on providing tools, training, and support for teachers to meet those standards.

While no teacher or administrator will ever claim to be overpaid, care must be taken when implementing pay scales based on achievement. There is an old story from the Soviet Union about a nail factory. The manager of the plant, whose position and salary was based on performance, was given a goal to produce one million nails in a year. The nails that were produced were too small and weak to be of any use for construction purposes and the industry suffered. However, the manager met his targeted goal. The next year, the central planners set the plant goal to produce one million pounds of nails during the year thinking the manager would correct the situation. The manager achieved his goal but the nails produced where like heavy spikes and proved to be too big for construction purposes. The industry still suffered and the housing shortage continued. If teachers are told their pay is based strictly on academic achievement based on test scores, then students will be highly skilled in taking tests but those skills will not help students in the real world. While their pay may be based on achievement, teachers must be assured they will have creative freedom to make learning more meaningful for their students without fear of economic loss.

No Child Left Behind Left Behind

Click on the following links to view the rest of Senator McCain's speech: Part 2, Part 3

In a November 2, 2007 article about the No Child Left Behind law, US News and World Report writer Eddy Ramirez wrote the law was "expected to be one of the most contentious debates of the political year...But as the calendar ticks into November, little has been heard since early summer...." I went to a meet and greet for Republican Presidential hopeful John McCain in Hilton Head Island recently. Here are the topics Senator McCain covered during his half hour stop: the war in Iraq (we are winning but the Democrats want to surrender), illegal immigration (backed off the amnesty program because we need to secure the borders first), Social Security (lady had a good idea and he would study it), beating Hillary Clinton (I guess she won the Democratic nomination but she is a liberal who voted to cut funds from the troops in Iraq), Iran is evil (Iranians are transporting powerful bombs that kill American soldiers), cutting back on pork barrel spending (drunken sailors don't like to be compared to Congress), health care (our system is the best in the world and government would mess it up, just look at Canada), and claimed to be the only conservative Republican running who has experience in national security affairs (invoked Ronald Reagan's City on a Hill). Other topics included not letting soldiers die in vain, close the Guantanamo prison for Enemy Combatants and send the occupants to Fort Leavenworth, forbid the use of torture because it is immoral and it could be used on American soldiers in future wars (McCain should know).

The one topic that was not covered was education, No Child Left behind in particular. In the Republican debate in Orlando, Florida (October 21, 2007), only Fred Thompson was asked if No Child Left Behind was it a mistake? Rudy Giuliani danced around the issue before finally saying parents should enforce the standards. No other candidates were even challenged. It is mid-November and No Child Left behind is supposed to be reauthorized before the end of the year. While our country faces serious challenges the the next president must face, education must be one of these challenges. Our economy is changing from an industrial to an information based economy. The War on Terror is a new type of war that will require new tactics and weapons that have probably never been thought of before 9/11. Attention to education will be very important if the United States is to continue leading the world.

Please let me know what you feel Presidential candidates should do about No Child Left Behind or education in general.