Editor's note: Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice lead the Independent Task Force on U.S. Education Reform and National Security, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. Klein served as chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, where he oversaw a system of more than 1,600 schools with 1.1 million students. He is CEO of the Education Division at News Corp. Rice served as the 66th U.S. secretary of State from 2005-2009. She is a professor at Stanford University (where she also served as provost) and a founding partner of The RiceHadley Group.
The United States is an exceptional nation. As a people, we are not bound by blood, nationality, ethnicity or religion. Instead, we are connected by the core belief that it does not matter where you came from; it matters only where you are going. This belief is what makes our country unique. It is also what makes education critically important, more so today than ever.
While our political leanings may be different, our careers have taught us that education is inextricably linked to the strength of this country and our leadership in the international community.
Today, globalization and the technological sophistication of our economy are widening already troubling socioeconomic disparities, rewarding those who acquire the right skills and punishing brutally those who do not. Much is at stake.
It is not hyperbole to say that the state of education in our country is a challenge to our national security. Human capital has never been more important for success in our increasingly competitive world economy. Yet, although the United States invests more in education than almost any other developed nation, its students rank in the middle of the pack in reading and toward the bottom in math and science. On average, U.S. students have fallen behind peers in Korea and China, Poland and Canada and New Zealand. This puts us on a trajectory toward massive failure.