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

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Topics: Fareed's Take • GPS Show

soundoff (351 Responses)
  1. Dennis

    The educational industry K-12 will not get much better without more experimentation, more choice and a process that punishes failure.

    May 5, 2014 at 11:32 am | Reply
    • maqbool Qurashi

      The societal emphasis is on sports and social network. The young persons should have only one goal, learning. Our education system has become flawed in many ways. It is top heavy with administrative layers reeking with political conflicts. The teachers are not properly trained and there is no discipline in the schools. Of course the lack of discipline begins at home where there is ample lack of expectations.

      May 5, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Reply
      • Steve

        I agree as a nation ,,,we are so more focused on entertainment and sports ,,which is more financial rewarding as well as glamorous. There are even shows that help promote business. Maybe the marketing gurus on our cable networks could promote science as a show and at the same time help drive the math mathematical logical part our brain.... Our technical Enovation is what made this country ,,,, we can do more than singing for our supper.....

        May 5, 2014 at 1:12 pm |
    • Bonku

      Quality of america's higher education INDUSTRY is far worse than elementary and high schools. That decline started around late 1970s, but picked up huge momentum after Ronald Reagan era. Many, if not majority, faculties and professors are LEAST interested in teaching and mentoring. Higher degrees like PhD, even professional degrees like MBA hardly add any value to any student and professional, paying insanely high tuition fee. Faculty union is probably the strongest labor union in the country (far more powerful than teachers' and auto unions) but hardly come under scrutiny (by either party- Dem or Rep). And the best part is- many of its members are also the part of top management, unlike any other union.

      Now America ranks 12th in the world so far quality of US higher education and research is concerned- compared to just 2nd (only after Swiss) in 1996, when systemic data collection started. Check this peer-reviewed article: Falling through the cracks and bridging the gap – India and USA showing similar trends- http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/106/05/0691.pdf

      May 5, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Reply
  2. palintwit

    Sarah Palin often wonders how gas stations can keep their restrooms so clean.

    May 5, 2014 at 11:34 am | Reply
  3. RON

    the government needs to spend money on it's own. Not funding other countries so we can occupy their land and search for terroists. Schools need to have more trade and not just think we are all going to be professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers, computer savvy. Kids today don't even know how to change a tire on a car or change the oil on a lawn mower. We need to be well rounded! Not one direction! We need to be the leaders in technology and production. Quality production that is. I'm tired of the crap from China and I think I speak for a lot of people.

    Until the governent stops the influence of corporate and taking illegal money, things will just get worse!

    May 5, 2014 at 11:36 am | Reply
    • Harold

      Money is not the issue. We spend over 11,000 dollars per student. Finland (number 1 in Mathematics) spends $9700

      May 6, 2014 at 5:57 am | Reply
  4. ogamidiagoro

    Hey Zakaria, We also need you guys in the media to stop promoting the "Hip Hop" culture that has made our children idiøts.

    May 5, 2014 at 11:37 am | Reply
  5. Joseph McCarthy

    So true. Ja..p..an for instance far outperforms the U.S. education system. Longer hours and dedicated educators, students, and superior curriculum.
    It is the epitome of an excellent education system.

    May 5, 2014 at 11:38 am | Reply
  6. George Patton

    Thank you Joseph, such a good post. That me add one more element in your description of a great model for education. Discipline! They have it, we don't.
    It's that simple!

    May 5, 2014 at 11:41 am | Reply
    • palintwit

      But there is a trade off. They can't tolerate failure. Which is why they have a higher suicide rate.

      May 5, 2014 at 11:53 am | Reply
      • George Patton

        Sad but true.

        May 5, 2014 at 11:59 am |
    • Harry Leg

      Education? who needs it when we can have crack dealer, pimps and welfare hoes who make more money to create
      more crack dealers, pimps and welfare hoes.

      May 5, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Reply
  7. sly

    Why spend money educating our youth when we can spend $10 trillion murdering 500,000 Arabs over those WMD's?

    And now we have an excellant opportunity to start WW III by dropping nuclear weapons on Russia and North Korea and Syria and Iran and China and Cuba and Venzuela and Alaska.

    May 5, 2014 at 11:42 am | Reply
    • George Patton

      That's what I've said all along, sly! We need to reduce threats to our borders. That's one sure way of doing it.

      May 5, 2014 at 11:47 am | Reply
  8. Rick

    We've long observed certain immigrant cultures that place huge emphasis on education – even within the existing US education framework. And we laugh at the funny last names of engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs. Casting dispersions is politically safer than defining, promoting and actually implementing any solution. Let's be clear that the enemy isn't the guy who might get elected instead of you, it's lethargy, party politics and being left behind. A reputation of greatness came from the hard work of generations. Let's be a generation that earns that for the next.

    May 5, 2014 at 11:43 am | Reply
  9. Bledsoe

    Joseph, George, thank you. You read my mind.

    May 5, 2014 at 11:44 am | Reply
  10. William Day

    First off as an educator , we are not way behind. Tell other countries to test all their students and offer opputunities to all their students . Not just there high achievers. We give our students different oppurtuniites to be in different jobs. We are not a cookie cutter society. We are the most diverse country in the world and that leads us to try to cater to everyone's interest.

    May 5, 2014 at 11:45 am | Reply
    • American Educator

      You're an educator and you don't know the difference between there and their? haha

      May 5, 2014 at 11:58 am | Reply
      • What a Joke

        Hahahhahhah

        May 5, 2014 at 12:22 pm |
      • George Patton

        Nobody is perfect. I make mistakes to.

        May 5, 2014 at 12:33 pm |
      • Bob

        You missed the misspelling of "opportunities", with two different spellings! "...opputunities to all their students . Not just there high achievers. We give our students different oppurtuniites".

        May 5, 2014 at 1:22 pm |
    • TheirEducatorsAreSmarterOverThere

      Maybe the problem is that many of our educators are not educated.

      May 5, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Reply
  11. Brian

    One thing that is sad about our society is that there is more emphasis put into sports and offering scholarships to athletes and less for academic merit. My daughter is one that the system doesn't help, and is wanting with a great desire to be an early education teacher, graduated top 6% in her class, but absolutely no assistance came her way so she has been going to the community college to get her first two years worth of classes done, even though she was accepted to Texas A&M out of high school.

    May 5, 2014 at 11:47 am | Reply
  12. Bonku

    The basic issue here is- leadership, talent and passion are least important to getting worker to get a 'work' done.

    Increasingly prolonged education and training (which is also becoming more synonymous to parental money and influence) along with reducing independence ruthlessly weeds out many imaginative, ‘revolutionary’ (who dare to challenge status-quo and take risks), impulsive truth seeking professionals in favor of socially adept, agreeable and industrious candidates. Expensive degrees like MBA and PhD do not add much value to most students / professionals (mainly managers) these days but became an essential to get a job and 'succeed' in the office. Published reports suggest that both mediocrity and narcissism started increasing among college students in the US since late 1970s and now have reached to an ‘epidemic’ level.

    May 5, 2014 at 11:56 am | Reply
    • YYJ

      The Narcissim and mediocrity comes from what kids are taught between the ages K-6. There force fed this belief in our schools. The effort to try and establish this false high esteem in our kids by the way the sports programs and basic education is taught. Winning is for nerds. Only losers study for tests, real winners surf Facebook and listen to the hottest songs. Only dorks and losers care about the physics of the universe. Real winners care about the latest slang words and how to be cool. Maybe I'm wrong but no one else thinks this may have something to do with it? When did playing by the rules, learning, curiosity and original thought become something only losers do and breaking the rules, making money by harming others, and skipping school become something real winners do? I think the other issue at hand too is everything had to be "fun". If its not fun I don't want to do it. If it's not an easy way to make money, then only losers do it. Why sit and read a boring science text book when you can just steal from someone or sell drugs on the corner. Only suckers believe physics, science, math, reading and writing matter. Only by refocusing our schools for accountability, responsibility, morality and by abandoning the concept that mediocrity needs to be praised can out educational system really be fixed.

      May 5, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Reply
      • Bonku

        I could not agree less. I think you may like this interesting article I read recently- Chatterjee, J. (2014). Falling through the cracks and bridging the gap – India and USA showing similar trends. Current Science 106, 691- 697. http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/106/05/0691.pdf

        May 5, 2014 at 2:33 pm |
      • Bonku

        I could not agree MORE.

        May 5, 2014 at 2:38 pm |
  13. Bonku

    The basic issue here is- leadership, talent and passion are least important to getting worker to get a 'work' done.

    Increasingly prolonged education and training (which is also becoming more synonymous to parental money and influence) along with reducing independence ruthlessly weeds out many imaginative, ‘revolutionary’ (who dare to challenge status-quo and take risks), impulsive truth seeking professionals in favor of socially adept, agreeable and industrious candidates. Expensive degrees like MBA and PhD do not add much value to most students / professionals (mainly managers) these days but became an essential to get a job and 'succeed' in the office. Published reports suggest that both mediocrity and narcissism started increasing among college students in the US since late 1970s and now have reached to an ‘epidemic’ level.

    No wonder, USA ranks 12th (in 2012) in the world so far quality of higher education and research is concerned, down from its 2nd position in 1996, when systemic data collection started.

    May 5, 2014 at 11:59 am | Reply
  14. bobcat2u

    It is totally unbelievable that this is the only joke I could find, at least that's not offensive. But in keeping with the holiday :

    There are many stories related to the sinking of the T itanic in April, 1912:

    For example, most people don't know that back in 1912, Best Foods Mayonnaise was manufactured in England.

    The T itanic was carrying 12,000 jars of the condiment scheduled for delivery in Vera Cruz, Mexico which was to be the next port of call for the great ship after New York.

    The Mexican people were eagerly awaiting delivery to apply fiesta specialties for their upcoming summertime parties and were disconsolate at the loss.

    So much so that they declared a national day of mourning which they still observe today.

    It is known, of course, as Sinko de Mayo.

    May 5, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Reply
  15. Steve

    There is nothing wrong against testing. What is wrong is standardized testing. A true leap in education would be to leverage technology to individualize learning to the strengths and weaknesses of each individual. Standardized education and testing only benefits those who fit in the standard deviation.

    May 5, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Reply
  16. Klaark

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

    This says it all about not only this issue, but every single one the country is facing.

    May 5, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Reply
  17. William holt

    People need to realize that the us goverment has realized that there is nothing we can do about our debt and country like china are going to come and collect very soon. Americans are putting a price tag on america now days lot of people have said if they were given 1 million dollars to leave the country and never come back again they would do it...thats not a good sign. Think about it you owe a person a lot of money they are going to come after you eventually thats the way it has always been. Russia looks at us and laughs because he knows we can talk the talk but we wont walk the walk until we are forced to like whats happening in ukraine right now eventually we will be forced to go over there and i think our goverment has already planned to and thats why were are pulling our troops out of iraq now to prepare to go to ukraine. Myself as an american would be lying if i said that i can look into my future and see a future with the way things are going and thats the truth and im sure anyone would agree

    May 5, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Reply
  18. Dario

    and roses smell good...Fareed you are stating the obvious but are refusing to truthfully point out the core issues why education is neglected. is it really in interest of lawmakers who bend rules for their own benefits to have majority of its citizens higly educated? if this was the case wouldnt post high school education be cheaper. 280 billion dollars of revenue from student loans over 10 yrs...everything is from monetary aspect and allowing the rich to stay in their class and limit other from breaking in. be honest!

    May 5, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Reply
  19. JC

    Two problems exist that have caused this issue. The first is standardized testing. Not the tests themselves, but the fact that curriculums are geared toward those tests mostly. The core is based on the testing, so planning revolves around it too. Kids no longer understand the proper parts of a sentence. It's no longer a requirement. So while we ditch those things and move the needle to specific points, overall knowledge is lost. The second is funding, which ties into the first problem. If schools are rewarded for their test scores, it only seems logical that schools will teach only to those tests. SAT and ACT scores have dropped significantly since 1990. Those tests are ignored and replaced with focus on ISATS or CAT. So now limited funds are fought over. Now imagine what we could invest into our children if we stopped giving Afghsnistan a billion dollars a month in cash? Or $300 billion to Israel. Or $225 billion to Saudi Arabia, who by the way gives that money to terrorists. We spend a lot of money trying to buy allies, but get nothing in turn for our investment. It's time to pull that money back and use it at home.

    May 5, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Reply
  20. jdalco

    Common core is a failure not because of parent wanting good grades for the kids, it is a failure because it does not teach our kids. . . I have three kids and to see how they are taught math now is scary. No wonder they don't get it, you make it way too confusing with the new Common Core BS. I hold a few degrees, including one in Electrical Engineering and I have trouble understanding what they want my kid to do in 4th grade math. . . the kids are set up to fail. Why don't we go back to teaching math like we did when we were kids, it worked. Stop trying to dumb it down. Common core will not work – all kids don't learn the same and it is time we went back to the old ways of letting teachers teach.

    May 5, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Reply
  21. Matt Grant

    Every fareed story is about how America is going down, how America is losing to the rest of the world. I used to find his critiques insightful...now he just sounds like amanpour.

    May 5, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Reply
  22. menisino

    Keep supporting Israel unconditionally as Hilliary Clinton says. Pour billions yearly with financial & military aid not to mention the billions send from U.S. thru American Jewish networks.. Yes, just keep it up & listen to American JEWISH POLITICIANS who are more concerned about Israel than about the U.S. Yes, allowing unlimited financial campaign monies where the Jewish Americ ans have the advantage. Go ahead , The United States of Israel. Keep it up till they drain & sap all the strength out of what was the greatest .

    May 5, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  23. Jrock

    Common Core is not the answer. The answer is to stop private education companies from corrupting our education system. Check this out:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnC6IABJXOI&list=HL1399307873

    May 5, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Reply
  24. Jrock

    Link does not work...check out Joshua Katz and his Tedx talk on Y.o.u.t.u.b.e

    May 5, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Reply
  25. Abbey

    Poor Fareed, who gives a flip about the world and the U.N.

    May 5, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Reply
  26. chrissy

    For once @ George Patton i agree with you. We do need more discipline with our children. Both in schools and at home! Todays children have no respect at all. And im not endorsing child abuse at all...but if my dad wouldve ever heard me be as disrespectful to my elders as kids are today im quite certain i wouldve found it difficult to sit for awhile!

    May 5, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Reply
    • George Patton

      Lol. A soft pillow always helps, chrissy. Been there.

      May 5, 2014 at 1:13 pm | Reply
  27. Leftcoastrocky

    Tutoring of students who are falling behind is needed.

    May 5, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Reply
  28. paturcotte

    To most improve our children's school performance in school, and society in general, start here. Maximize opportunities for parents to be involved with their children, both through changes in the family court system and through employer policies. The changes involving parenting rights wouldn't cost a dime, and I bet some more flexibility in employee hours wouldn't cost much either. Cheers

    May 5, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Reply
  29. paturcotte

    Okay, I showed some poor academic skills myself in my comment! I meant "To most improve our children's performance in school". I need to slow down! Too much emotion behind my typing.

    May 5, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Reply
  30. Toto

    America is beyond redemption. Sold out to fast profits and greed. Our only chance is if someone else exceeds us in these areas.

    May 5, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Reply
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