May 5th, 2014
11:15 AM ET

Why world is overtaking America

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Fareed Zakaria

The single biggest force behind falling American rankings on education and skills is not that the United States is doing things much worse, but that other countries have caught up and are doing better. The American system of secondary education and adult training is clearly inadequate in the new global environment.

And things show no signs of improving.

The bipartisan backlash against the common core – a set of national standards agreed to by governors – is a tragic example.Parents raised on a culture of low standards and high self-esteem are outraged that the tests show that many, many American schools are not teaching their children enough.(The tests must be at fault because their kids are brilliant!)

Some left wing groups and teachers’ groups are upset with the emphasis on testing (though Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, has actually endorsed the Common Core.)

And Republicans now oppose it, despite having championed it only a few years ago, largely because the Obama administration also happens back this project.

Here's another quote from French economist Thomas Piketty's big book: “[T]he principal force for convergence [of wealth]-the diffusion of knowledge-is only partly natural and spontaneous. It also depends in large part on educational policies.”

In other words, if America really wants to reduce inequality, it needs to reform the system, spend money where needed – such as early education – and get to work at it now.

Watch the video for the full Take or read the WaPo column

Post by:
Topics: Fareed's Take • GPS Show

soundoff (348 Responses)
  1. VL

    Simple answer to the question. Education. Period. Look at how other countries are educating their kids and how we are. All we care is still having our kids learn communication and playing instead of English and math. I wonder when other countries will surpass us on their English level when English is their secondary language. BTW, do we really need to teach our kids how to play?

    June 15, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Reply
  2. Howard

    Our educational system built the empire state bldg, the Brooklyn bridge put a man o n the moon and eliminated polio. Thats what the conservatives want to destroy. The ability to think and produce things of value. They dream of a theocratic plutocracy where the few will have everything. Civics have been taken out of school. There dream is a privatized educational system where citizens are tained to follow blindly the dictates of the wealthy. It's kind of scary especially since they appear to be succeeding.

    June 15, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Reply
    • JK

      Howard: That comment is most inconsistent with facts at hand: Failing public schools are largely the result of situations where parents are not involved. Top public schools exist in many U.S. cities where education is valued and parental involvement is high. The same is true of private schools. Kids with parents who care and are involved are doing quite well in school; all of these statistics are skewed by large city failing public schools, and do not tell the full story. An administration more concerned with education, than teacher's unions will be a good start. Talk or listen to parents in good schools, and there are plenty: those kids are under enormous pressure to perform in math, science and English. They do multiple hours of homework in the evenings. We just do not hear about this in the media, because it is not a story of failure. Conservatives do not wish to destroy anything; They are the ones seeking strong instruction in civics and western civilization in general: It is the liberal factions that have caused top universities in this nation to focus on multi-culturalism and the like.

      June 15, 2014 at 7:24 pm | Reply
      • george

        How to account for about half the population dismisses Darwin's theory and believes Creationism, or denies global warming, or purports to be suspitious of science? While I don't know the numbers accurately they vastly exeed the number of people who believe the world is flat.

        June 21, 2014 at 12:34 pm |
      • Mitch Savini

        One daughter graduating college and the other going to Florida State for chemical engineering. Their mother and I have spent many nights helping out with homework, tutoring when needed, meeting with teachers one on one, etc. and this while we care for a seven and two year old with special needs. Parental involvement is the single biggest source of strength for kids to succeed, not money.

        June 24, 2014 at 6:48 am |
    • ellas mcdaniel

      actually, the Brooklyn Bridge was designed by John A. Roebling, who was born and trained in Germany. As for sending a man to the moon, try Wernher van Braun and his merry band of nazis imported to Huntsville AL after WW2.

      Truth is, many of the achievements of USA in 20th century were because of immigrants from Europe driven out by wars and nazis, and/or attracted by promise of a better life in USA. Being the only country whose factories and cities were not bombed into rubble during WW2 was also a big factor. There never was anything all that special about American education

      June 23, 2014 at 7:44 pm | Reply
      • Mitch Savini

        John Moses Browning
        Willis Carrier
        Samuel Colt
        Henry Ford
        Robert Fulton
        Charles Goodyear
        Cyrus Mc Cormick
        Samuel F.B. Morse
        Dr. Jonas Salk
        Eli Whitney
        Orville & Wilbur Wright
        All American Born inventors and pioneers and products of American educations for the dummy who stated nothing is special about American education...once again United States haters and jealous of our standing in the world...why do so many people want to sneak into the States and Europe....because we build and innovate and live on high standard because of what our predecessors have built and yes we are strong on immigrant limitation as any sovereign nation should be...otherwise eliminate nations and have a one world government...America Exceptionalism!!!

        June 24, 2014 at 7:53 am |
      • shan

        Marshall Plan?

        July 18, 2014 at 6:30 am |
  3. honestabe

    If the world is doing everything better, then why are the citizens of all other countries "DYING" to get to AMERICA! They all want American schools because theirs are so much better? LOL! This kind of talk all feeds into the globalization concept – where Americans will learn to live and get paid like all the other peasants around the world.

    June 15, 2014 at 11:00 pm | Reply
    • Dave Seavy

      Mostly because they can get all the handouts at our (taxpayer) expense. Many do come here for the opportunities to better themselves and have the opportunity to start a business, etc., but many more come because we give them everything. They're not stupid; they know which states will give them the key to the cash drawer; Minnesota being near, if not at the top, of the list.

      June 16, 2014 at 9:42 am | Reply
      • gbreeza

        False. European countries give more handouts than the US. Actually America isn't even top ten for government services

        June 24, 2014 at 4:37 pm |
  4. Drone

    That's because the GOP doesn't believe in education. They would prefer we go back to the plantation days.

    June 16, 2014 at 1:50 am | Reply
  5. kingpinjoe

    The National Defense Education Act – Ike brought that in – a Republican that took federal dollars to build schools, and teachers and parents banded together to demand more from the students. What was the result? American leadership in every field of science and technology. The Chinese managed to land a rover on the moon and what was the reaction of the US? Meh. The US needs to start electing leaders who care about getting things done – not about political/ideological purity. America was on the move when you had Republican presidents spending money on the National Defense Education Act, the Highway system, and Democratic presidents pointing to the moon and saying – "lets go!". When there is no vision – the people perish.

    June 16, 2014 at 11:53 am | Reply
  6. Nostranger

    Early in school, I struggled in math. I end up memorizing multiplication tables and eventually, it helped me to visualized most multiplication and division problems in my head and by the time I got to high school, I typically placed in the near 90th percentile in math.
    My son struggled as I had and I helped him to do the same as I did, but he struggled with my 'method'. I quickly realized that we all learn differently, and he eventually found 'his method' for solving math in his head, just as I had. He can now solve multiplication and division as fast as I can.
    So why does my son struggle to get passing grades in math? Because he has show his work and learn the dozen or so 'methods' of solving problems, most of which he doesn't understand (and teachers long ago didn't care how you got the answer, as long as it was right).
    The difference today is that the right answer is no longer as important as the 'methods' they teach to get there. He can multiply 132 X 27 in his head and get it right, but if he doesn't do it using their 'method' his answer is wrong.

    June 16, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Reply
    • george

      I too had trouble, learning math by the method my teachers used. However, I well remember 60 years ago, taking solid geometry, struggling to pass the teacher's exams, but would get superior results on State set exams. This upset my teacher.

      June 21, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Reply
  7. Total2199

    "but that other countries have caught up and are doing better"

    Nope Mr. Zakaria. You are wrong as always. It never caught up and getting worse.

    June 17, 2014 at 8:16 am | Reply
  8. suzie669

    1/ Because American Employers are looking for CHEAP LABORS

    2/ Because foreigners are looking for CHEAP PAYS in exchange of Green Cards

    3/ Because American are too busy with wars and intrusions in other people's business

    June 17, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Reply
    • Sani

      Great Site and I like your color coded lists but I thought you might want to look at my luyoat for the lists and maybe combine the ideas to a make a calendar to see the year at a glance. I would love to send you my file so you can use it.Thor's Gal

      July 5, 2014 at 8:33 pm | Reply
    • Berkay

      I took it out of the Valley. Was in Pioneer Square in a tight parking space. We noetcid 4 homeless guys standing around, smiling and talking. They actually helped us get the truck parked without hitting a pole. We bought their breakfast! So simple goal is to follow my heart and look for opportunities to give a little every day. Nancy

      July 25, 2014 at 6:32 pm | Reply
  9. PhD

    Um, did they leave out the paragraph listing the facts?

    June 17, 2014 at 8:46 pm | Reply
    • Totti

      Emily I am in the green group right? I have two emails busaece when I first registered I picked the wrong one blue . I visited Sam's sight seriously you two are so amazing. I can't wait to have my printer working so I can print off some worsheets. love shelby

      July 5, 2014 at 7:20 pm | Reply
    • Michael

      I'm really ectexid to get your wonderful info and am looking forward to Spring and planting. We live in Lehi on the West side of the freeway just South of Thanksgiving Point. Are we on the same schedule as Pleasant Grove?? Thanks so much.

      July 21, 2014 at 11:21 am | Reply
    • Aslan

      Wonderful! They obviously chose the right peorsn for the job. You have clearly got a gift not just in your photography but also in the way you communicate to others cross culturally.

      July 25, 2014 at 6:32 pm | Reply
  10. John Smith

    1. The more advanced the capital products are, the less labor is needed, the less say people without capital has. People think technology advancement necessarily helps employment. In fact, they are often inversely related, especially in saturated sectors. With IT and free flow of capital, sectors saturate very fast
    2. IT is now helping Americans to consume more efficiently, not to produce more efficiently. Apple has no such influence on productivity as GM, Ford, Caterpillar had in the past
    3. As science and technology is reaching bottleneck, proliferation rather than innovation is becoming an increasingly prominent factor in economic growth.

    It sounds counter-intuition but it is an inevitable trend. US should think seriously of its ideology – how to deal with polarization in future, as benefit of capital will trickle down more evenly around the globe, and Americans will be less privileged – statistically, education can not help much in keeping this privilege, as we all know that human intellectual capacity are more or less the same.

    June 18, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  11. Raul

    We have private schools, public schools, at home schooling, etc. There are 3 system of educating our studens. To really discover which system is better, why not give the students the same test, say in 4th, 8th, and 11th grade? Then, compare the scores. I have no doubt who will be top scorers and that will be where parents are involved. Quit throwing money at the problem. When money is thrown in, tablets and computers are bought. All kids now have them now. I say to the states' commissioners of education, go to the schools in other counries and see what they are doing. They will find out we are already doing the same things they are, but parental involvment and discipline are way ahead of us.

    June 27, 2014 at 4:50 pm | Reply
    • ashley

      Very true. Well stated.

      July 12, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Reply
  12. silo3001

    The real problems in education are:
    1/ a system funded mostly by property taxes leaving the poor behind
    2/ vocational schools and apprenticeship programs virtually gone
    3/ a for profit post secondary system. When Harvard which doesn't need the money decides to create a for profit online education with the Harvard name but without the Harvard diploma just because they don't want to miss out on a multi billion dollar market
    4/ lack of parent student teacher interaction
    5/ a multiple choice, elective system which teaches test taking and not testing knowledge
    6/ a department of education that does great studies and creates great programs that are only implemented overseas because local politicians, school boards and PTAs are morons
    7/ the idea that class size is important and having gadgets in the classroom versus well trained and well compensated and accountable teachers
    8/ freedom to let teachers develop programs and give incentive to innovate in the classroom versus punish
    9/ giving physics, math, chemistry, biology, history, geography a higher priority than Friday night lights

    July 3, 2014 at 9:09 pm | Reply
  13. Monica

    I'm not super familiar with that area , but it looks to me like the clsoest location listed on the chart is Farmington, with a date of May 1. If you tend to have similar weather to Farmington, I would use that date. You're right on the edge of the two groups. If it is a mild winter/spring and you are excited, I would follow the yellow schedule. If it is a cold winter-spring and you are more relaxed, I would use the green schedule.

    July 5, 2014 at 6:51 pm | Reply
  14. mickinmd

    "And things show no signs of improving.
    The bipartisan backlash against the common core – a set of national standards agreed to by governors – is a tragic example."

    Fareed, you clearly have NO expertise in primary and secondary education. Common core guarantees lowering of achievement.

    July 7, 2014 at 8:10 pm | Reply
  15. Douglas MacNeill

    "The single biggest force behind falling American rankings on education and skills is not that the United States is doing things much worse, but that other countries have caught up and are doing better. The American system of secondary education and adult training is clearly inadequate in the new global environment."

    Does anyone see the contradiction in these two sentences?
    "Other countries have caught up and are doing better." That
    suggests that factors other than the actual educational performance
    of the United States are behind the currently changing situation.

    And yet, Mr. Zakaria can also say that "[t]he American system of
    secondary education and adult training in clearly inadequate in the
    new global environment." In other words, it is the sole responsibility
    of the American system of secondary education to compensate for
    the fact that its absolute performance, its performance against some
    hypothetical perfection, is not improving while the secondary education
    systems of other countries are improving against that same hypothetical
    perfection. Either American education is responsible for phenomena beyond
    its control (as your second point suggests) or it is not responsible (as your
    first point states). Which shall it be, Mr. Zakaria?

    July 8, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Reply
    • Jay

      I think that you missed the point of Fareed's comment. Improving the American education system to a standard being achieved by other countries is not beyond the control of the American education system. That point underlies his commentary.

      July 14, 2014 at 5:57 pm | Reply
  16. Farrok

    Most of the American Public School System should be flushed down the toilet where it belongs. It's all rainbows and popsicles now and not math, science or technology. American is failing in the schoolroom and will fail on the battlefield as it's just a matter of time. All this political correctness is one of the final nails in America's coffin. America is a shadow of what it once was.

    July 8, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Reply
  17. Julie

    Read "are we catching up or leading the way" by Zhao

    July 10, 2014 at 9:53 pm | Reply
  18. Sarrek

    Here on Vulcan we do fairly well with our educatonal system.

    July 14, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Reply
  19. brian le

    You're a fool if you believe everything the expert says. Everybody try to sell you something. Better learn how to sell, even you have nothing to sell. Keep selling until you are rich.

    July 16, 2014 at 1:44 am | Reply
  20. patrick

    ** insert racist comment here **

    July 16, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Reply
  21. Tomas D

    Fact's are the education system is not all as bad as most people think it is, why don't we all just take a good look at the Massachusetts education system and the changes made there within the last 20 years and emulate to other states as it now ranks at the top with the best schools of the world, in all category. People need to stop complaining about stuff and start getting involved to make changes on the issues that really matter to them,

    July 18, 2014 at 11:23 am | Reply
  22. Chen

    I'm here China and I show you some views of us. We can't let the hammer be held in the other's hand, having no weapons in our own, so we have to build the shield, and maybe the sword as well, however they are for defense only. You should not forget the long history of western aggression and exploitation in China, which should not happen again. China has always been a peaceful and kind country, but as an old saying goes here,"A kind man can be bullied even by a dog";Fortune was not fair to my country and its people. We were the most powerful one in the past, and so we could be in the future too. With China being strengthened, our world is to be more harmonious.

    July 19, 2014 at 10:22 am | Reply
  23. Giselly

    I'm not able to find my color for some reason. Would I be in the green or blue group if I live in Murray Utah? I'm exitced to use your site. I want to be a gardener and this will definitely help.

    July 21, 2014 at 11:08 am | Reply
  24. Linda

    Our schools suck because of all the illegal that have been placed in them! Now we don't have enough resources or time for the teachers to focus on "our" kids! Their to busy disciplining the kids now and telling them to pull up their pants!

    July 22, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  25. Zaen

    Thanks for sharing this! I had no idea this was going on. Very intetesring. I actually just came across your blog by chance, but I wanted to let you know that I'm currently a graduate student at JHU and this semester my Business of Museums professor had me read "Principles of Participation," Chapter 1, The Participatory Museum. Great work! I felt like this chapter provided a great introduction for me being able to see the museum from the eyes of a visitor; verses a museum intern and student.

    July 25, 2014 at 6:21 pm | Reply
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