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. Hilal

    Fareed Zakaria himself is a witness that US is falling back, imagine an immigrant roots overtaking white colored US race.

    May 5, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Reply
  2. ShawnDH

    jack2 whined: "Pure ignorance and self absorbsion is why this nationj is suffering. As long as democrats are in control we will sink as has been demonstrated in the recent past."

    Sure. Bush left things so great. FAIL.

    It's the selfish and pathological inequality of the conservative ideology that is destroying the nation. So-called "trickle down" has basically ruined America.

    May 5, 2014 at 4:11 pm | Reply
  3. chrissy

    And WHOs brainstorm is it to send 10s of billions of dollars to other countries...dollars that We've had to borrow to begin with? That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever! 99% of the people in charge of expenditures (congress again) arent fit to run for dog catchers!!!

    May 5, 2014 at 4:13 pm | Reply
  4. chrissy

    Lol true @ Shawn...the only thing worse than the 114th congress IS GWB and CHENEY! Combined they are a festival of Idiots!

    May 5, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Reply
    • WES

      Yes, and the liasr Obama, Pelosi and Reid are God's gift to the American people. Take your head out of you *** and read what's happened to America in the last 6 years. But, it's all Bush;s fault. If you like your president, you can keep your president, Benghazi never happened and IRS doesn't target anyone. You have to pass the bill before you can see what's in it, and everything wrong with the country is the Koch brothers' fault. Keep believing that and pretty soon you can drink the Kool Ade and be very peaceful.

      May 5, 2014 at 6:20 pm | Reply
      • berticode

        And 911 was a much bigger tragedy than Benghazi yet you Rethuglicans defend that village 1diot because he's one of your own.. No surprise that most rich and educated states voted Obama and the most poorest and ignorant states vote republican. Economy is much better now, better job market, housing market almost out of recession, American car companies making profit.. Obama bailout, credit / bank regulation all played a role which you will deny because you hate the 'Kenyan Muslim' as you call him

        May 5, 2014 at 7:37 pm |
  5. Jack R

    The US just mandates a minimum wage raise for the people who are not motivated to become educated or trained for a skill.

    May 5, 2014 at 4:18 pm | Reply
    • mountainlady5281

      Comments like yours make it so difficult to be polite. A great great number of folks who exist on minimum wage are students who are trying to pay for college, single mothers who can't afford child care so they can get that education and college grads who got out of school only to find that there are no jobs. Try getting your "I'm so much better than everyone else" nose out of the air and come back down to earth. We need to get our kids educated to be the best they can be and not just "get by" AND we need to raise the minimum wage.

      May 5, 2014 at 7:34 pm | Reply
  6. quidestveritas

    how could anyone have guessed that the answer to our problems is pouring more money into the education system?

    May 5, 2014 at 4:21 pm | Reply
    • Ohio Peg

      Sorry, but this one is NOT about money, its about what teachers, as a minium, will teach their students. While some extra effort goes into defining what that is, the teachers are all used to needing an outcome to pass their students. Common Core is a good thing. If you read this column, it says clearly.....the republicans backed this, but now they do not, because the Obama administration agreed with them. This country is allowing its political parties to ruin the entire nation with this relentless hype and nuttieness going on in Washington. No one is all wrong and all right, never were either. But that Tea Party focus on only what WE believe is killing the whole country. Lets get back to the center, where everyone doesn't need guidance from political blogs on what to think.

      May 5, 2014 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  7. Ted

    My G-d! Could it finally be, the first semi-intelligent article from Zakaria.

    May 5, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  8. Chuck

    Zachariah, its people like you that are bringing down this country

    May 5, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Reply
    • lewtwo

      truer words were never written

      May 5, 2014 at 6:50 pm | Reply
  9. JO

    Common Core is a great idea, but it's implementation has been disastrous. The standards for early childhood and primary grades are not developmentally appropriate. Testing has not been adjusted to reflect the new curricula, but as long as test scores are tied to funding, schools will be teaching to the test. It's necessary for survival. Teachers are also inventing curriculum materials to go with the new standards on their own – they're all inventing the wheel independently.

    I believe a national curriculum is necessary, but we have to implement it in a way that actually works for students and teachers.

    May 5, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Reply
  10. max21c

    Mr. Zakaria is right on the mark per Education being of vital importance to the individual, family, and society. Yet, Fareed misses the mark on not clearly defining the root cause being bad leadership at the top per consistent & constant situ of bad leadership skills stretching over decades.

    May 5, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Reply
    • for max21c

      The leadership that is most sorely lacking is by every single parent who sends their kid(s) to school or homeschools. When parents demand excellence AND make sure every day that their kids attend school and understand the material they bring home for homework, kids will do very well. Ultimately, parents are responsible for how well their kids do. Teachers teach. Parents make sure their kids are connecting. School terribe? Homeschool or accredited online schooling are options for middle school on up. If schools really are that terrible, move if you value your kid.

      May 5, 2014 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  11. frankpendle

    education is a strategic imperative, and is comparatively more important for the US than military might. the country should shift a significant amount of our military budget to education. imagine what an extra USD 40 billion per year – or just 10% of the military budget – could do for our country.

    May 5, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Reply
  12. julnor

    No amount of money will educate those who do not place an importance on education. As usual our problems are not rooted in the lack of govt programs or money.

    May 5, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  13. Bubba

    Too many minorities dumbing down the classroom....

    Huge marking curve...

    May 5, 2014 at 4:48 pm | Reply
    • czombie

      You have a point. All of the Asian Americans I know hate that white people with names like Bubba are dumbing down the classroom.

      May 5, 2014 at 7:22 pm | Reply
    • berticode

      Minorities? Asians , Jews, Indians consistently outperform white kids who are always on weeds or sleeping with each other .. Lol

      May 5, 2014 at 7:40 pm | Reply
  14. robert n name

    Two issues that come to mind - one is the latest trend of teaching to the test (common core is a perfect example of it) and the other is that US always was lagging behind in terms of education. Even 30 years ago a 11 year old coming from Germany or Austria would be at LEAST two grade levels above what a average 11 year old was in USA (personal experience).

    Another issue is that if you look at secondary schools, most of the American kids will take the "easy" classes, such as journalism and such. In advanced math classes or computer science, it is usually 90% or more foreigners / 10% US - and I am including as "US" the people who were born in a foreign country but have now US citizenship.

    May 5, 2014 at 4:53 pm | Reply
  15. chrissy

    @ bubba...even the BEST school couldnt make your comment any less STUPID!!!!

    May 5, 2014 at 4:59 pm | Reply
  16. cskoog2014

    Fareed has hit the proverbial nail right on the head. America is only "number one" at incarcerating its own people. Truly, the greatest nation in the world is no more and the world knows it. It's only the people who suffer from ignorance-based denial that are unaware of just how far behind the rest of the Western industrialized countries we really are, and substandard education is a big part of that intrinsic failure.

    May 5, 2014 at 5:08 pm | Reply
  17. Earl

    I must disagree with Fareed on one thing. Sadly, religious zelots are against public education due to general revulsion to science, growing from dislike of the theory of evolution, and now, of course, climate change. The problem is that evolution is supported by other sciences, Astronomy, Physics, Geology, etc. Such deniers have powerful funding and support within the Republican party. I think we are basically lost.

    May 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm | Reply
    • Earl

      See for examples of folks working against science education.

      May 5, 2014 at 5:50 pm | Reply
  18. Albert Brown

    I do not agree. The US education system has taken many steps back. Teachers are not allowed to fail students because it will hurt their feelings. There are makeup test, extra credit work and scoring 110% on a test. Kids are not punished for not doing homework. Homework is done in class and sport gets you passed all requirements. And then we have so many vacation days that the kids end up with more time on vacation than in school.

    May 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm | Reply
  19. Dan

    @Patrick seriously there are trillion dollar mines of major metals all over the US that are shut down because demand isn't high enough; invading Afghanistan for minerals of $1T is a bunch of BS

    May 5, 2014 at 5:43 pm | Reply
  20. Useless....

    Zakaria – before I read your article I said you were going to say it was the Republicans fault and that more money needs to be spent on education (despite the US is the highest in the world per capita) – you did not disappoint me, you need to go back to school!

    May 5, 2014 at 5:47 pm | Reply
    • David

      The problem is we spend that money on building major edifices, not on improving education.

      May 5, 2014 at 10:56 pm | Reply
  21. Johanson

    Look at the big picture. 99.9999% of you all are talking about and arguing about proxy issues. If you want to change something about your country, you must first have the balls to be willing to look at yourself...your country and be willing to accept that things aren't perfect. We must be willing to accept change and accept trying other ideas. We are so off course beating folks over the head with terms like 'liberal' 'conservative' 'republican' 'democrat' etc.... We are label-nutballs. All of these problems can in some way or another be traced back to the core things that make us human. We allow greed to thrive and say that its just part of doing business. Why not focus on compassion. You get more out of people by backing their ideas with something positive then this negative self serving driving undertone of selfishness, being scared of things that don't even make sense to be scared about. Being scared of changing ourselves and then saying that we aren't scared of change, we are just doing it the right way. If we were doing it the right way we wouldn't be having these proxy battles with people willing to lose everything we have accomplished and to give up everything because they feel that their way is better. There are 380+ million people in this country with 380+ million ideas on the perfect way to live. We should respect those numbers, respect our neighbors and not ask what they are doing wrong, but ask how you can help them accomplish their goal.

    May 5, 2014 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  22. Useless....

    worthless appraisal Zakaria – par for you performance...

    May 5, 2014 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  23. Burstbubble

    Fareed you have such a big mouth and extreme lack of knowledge in this area of expertice. You don't mention anything about NO child left behind Law. This was the biggest mistake the politicians ever made in the last decade. They made a law that was set up to ruin the education system. The polictical parties want to ruin public education, so they can privatize it. You can lead a horse to the water but you can't make them drink it. The student needs to be heald accountable for their own learning, yet NCLB holds the teacher accountable and not the student. Holding teacher accountable for students learning has got to be one of the dumbest idea. I tried to talk to Ben Ray Lujan , NM congressmen, about NCLB and how bad it was since it removes the tools teachers use to teach. His right hand man thought they need just more money. Politicans have ruined the education system. Did you know that NCLB was implemented in the Texas's educationial system and it made it the worst? GWB was governor at the time. Why on earth would anyone want to implement that in to a nataional system? This Political solutions doesn't work and is only used to appease those in power who know nothing about education. Spending more money on a system that they broke won't fix the problem. If they keep breaking it as they are doing, spending money on it won't fix it either. You Fareed are either complacient to the problem because you are passing along the "facts". These numbers just show that politicians have become successful at breaking the educational system. We need to bring back personal accoutablity to the students. When I was in a worker in a factory do you really think that my trainer was held responsible for me doing my job? No, I was acocountable, so should our students. The way politicians are going about this is all wrong.

    May 5, 2014 at 6:08 pm | Reply
  24. Carl

    OK, back on topic, now. There aretwo primary factors adversely affecting US public education. The first is that we have politicians and political appointees who are neither education scholars nor practiced educators making policy and setting standards for education. Additionally, these politicians never put education first–it is always a rider to another bill in order to "buy" votes. Second–and the worst part–is that the last 40 years have seen a deterioration in the parent-school-community-student partnership that was foundational from the establishment of formal education system in Ancient Greece and Rome. In most American public schools, parental participation–volunteering in classrooms, serving on PTA/PTO committees, attending parent-teacher conferences, or monitoring schoolwork and school activity–has declined to near invisibility, unless a student gets in trouble. This loss of parents in the formula is a catastrophe...and something that only a shift toward involved parenting will repair. As for legislated standards, we must stop focusing on minimums and lead students to excellence–education is more than memorizing facts, forumlae, and processes, it is also fostering and encouraging analysis, thought, application, and creativity...

    May 5, 2014 at 6:08 pm | Reply
  25. poopyonastick

    US elementary school children had more knowledge in the 19th century than a college graduate today. Spending has gone up exponentially, but students have less knowledge. Education has also been taken over by the Fed, and taken away from local government, and parents. Lets go back to what worked in the past. Central planning has not been working, and common core is just another Federal program that will fail.

    May 5, 2014 at 6:12 pm | Reply
  26. public equals public

    Public schools are made or broken by parental participation. The community controls the school. That's what open school board meetings are for and parent-teacher associations are for. If you don't like what's going on in your public school, get the community together and fix it. If you don't attend, you lose your input.

    May 5, 2014 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  27. tednugent'sdiapers

    If you're a teabagger and can read this post, congratulations! You're at the head of your class!

    May 5, 2014 at 6:50 pm | Reply
  28. sixthromeo

    The world is not "overtaking America" it is becoming America; well, the USA. America IS all of two continents, be that as it may. The USA is the confluence of all the world's culture and ability; the confluence has spread back to the sources, back to China, to India, to the Mid-East to Western Europe and now comes again to the USA. It is a growth of the world's humanity; this "America" as the ultimate is in error, it is only where everything sown in the East is reaped in the West only to be sown again in the East.

    May 5, 2014 at 7:13 pm | Reply
  29. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    The USA's public schools are certainly much worse than they were sixty years ago.
    Money cannot fix our schools.
    Of course, children must be left behind if they do not learn. Many USA citizens do not deserve a high school diploma.

    May 5, 2014 at 7:22 pm | Reply
  30. Observer

    I bet in the countries overtaking America they don't go into decades of debt to get a bachelors degree, let alone anything higher, either.

    May 5, 2014 at 7:34 pm | Reply
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