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. wake up America

    You have nailed it, my friend. We have grown rotten to the "core". We need to work on improving our "common core", meaning our character, how we interact with other nations, how we interact with mother nature and the environment, how we interact with our own family. Our "common core" has grown kinda rotten lately. So instead of shoving new ways to do long division down our kids throats, how about we shove better morals and values down our own adult throats? Our politicians are merely a microcosm or "representation" of who we are, so if they have supposedly grown "rotten", then so have we, that is to say us, you and me, not them, us, you and me. Ahem. So guess who has to change for the better, to make this world a better place?????

    May 8, 2014 at 6:57 pm | Reply
  2. Uncle Sam

    A bipartisan long term commitment to raise teachers salaries to match those of average college graduates would help a lot.

    May 9, 2014 at 3:51 am | Reply
  3. DidItWork

    You REALLY think there's any difference between dems and reps??

    May 9, 2014 at 7:49 am | Reply
  4. DidItWork

    Yes, US exploits and benefits without getting the territory. It's enough if American companies start to develop the democritized country resources. That's why we see a plephora of "revolutions" all around the world. It's USA needs more resources.

    May 9, 2014 at 7:53 am | Reply
  5. Ted

    Most of these comments prove Fareed's point: We're "puffed up", practically illiterate, and don't understand how to learn. But, we are very good at ranting and raving off topic.

    May 9, 2014 at 10:23 am | Reply
    • george

      I recently read that close to 50% of American adults purport not to believe Darwin's theory of evolution, and a goodly per cent believe the world is only 4,000 years old. I am astonished at the number of people who deny global warming. I don't pretend to know the reasons behind these ignorances, but ignorances they are.
      What happened to the America that John Adams, Thomas Payne, Benjamin Franklin , Thomas Jefferson gave birth to?

      June 14, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Reply
  6. Elizabeth

    A reminder that when we were really ahead, very ahead, we did not have benchmark exams, state exams, end-of-courses exams, exams on exams. The digital world has exploded in the U.S. and our students can keep up with the latest and greatest. Our teachers could keep up with them, also, if they were not so exam-burdened. The morale is awful because the stakes are so high (thus the phrase "high-stakes tests"). Who wants to be the teacher whose disaggregated test scores show that his/her students failed mathematics for the third straight year? Everyone is looking around wondering who is going to be responsible for a score of "Underperforming". If AYP isn't met, the Federal government has the right to administer one or more of several sanctions. Teachers work with heart, and if this is what their government wants, then they are going to put their heart into it.
    Consider also the role of the Council of Great City Schools: they were well behind NCLB because they thought their subgroups were going to get boosted, but wait; it was an unfunded mandate. Oops! Now CGCS is all about the common core, more leaving behind. If a national curriculum doesn't work, then maybe a national teacher preparation program will. That is next on the horizon. CGSC and the Feds are going to infiltrate Teacher Preparation Programs and relieve states of their rights to create the kinds of teachers that they want! It's in the works, folks.
    If there are any parents out there who still believe in neighborhood schools, the right to choose their child's education, and/or the right to happy childhoods for their kiddos, then now's the time to bring the canary into the coal mine. Motto of the day: "You can't fix broke."

    May 9, 2014 at 4:51 pm | Reply
    • Crushinator

      You seem to be confusing access to information and intelligence. These are not the same thing. It is like the chief in Fahrenheit 451 said, we have access to facts but lack the ability to make sense of them and interpret and deduce their meaning and relevance. We can spout off lots of "facts" but in the end we are ignorant because we were not taught how to learn, just how to remember. (I am paraphrasing here)The biggest mistake many people in this day make is confusing access to information with intelligence.

      May 10, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Reply
  7. Rick McDaniel

    What do expect from parents, whose criteria for their child, is to always have "fun"?

    May 10, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Reply
  8. Val Sor

    In almost every country I go, there is always someone there who says the system of education is not sufficient, LOL.

    May 10, 2014 at 4:50 pm | Reply
    • bobhamiltonchicago

      They are correct.

      May 12, 2014 at 7:02 am | Reply
  9. wmsmith24

    Fareed, your constant lecturing of Americans with what you seem to think is some kind of unique knowledge of the rest of the world that Americans don't have is going to end you up in the same place Piers Morgan's lectured ended him. It is not only tiering it is wrong in so many ways. It is obviously easy for commentators to use test scores as substance for articles that must be produced on a frequent basis but that does not mean there is any causal relationship between test scores and the well-being of U.S. residents and residents of other nations. In spite of test scores the U.S. has the most innovative businesses and economy in the world, regardless of the World Bank's academic PPP adjustments. In addition, that economy and the people that drive it enable the strongest military in the world, one that has to keep sea lanes free and commerce moving everywhere in the world. Do you really think anyone wants China's one aircraft carrier protecting their merchant ships. Do you really think anyone wants Russia protecting the free exchange of ideas on the Internet? Do you really think the Euro can serve as the exchange currency for the entire world? So if all of this is the result of Americans performing poorly on tests that you consider to be important then I say let's fail some more. When you find some tests that measure innovation, creativity, heart and just down-right ability to compete then write another lecture but until then please keep your arrogant lectures in the CNN wash room.

    May 11, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Reply
    • vmat

      Yup, Fareed is right, we are a nation of idiots with very high self esteem – your ranting proves that. Children are the future of a nation. Fareed is pointing out the grim future of our children and their destiny if things do not improve now. We are currently a nation of drop outs. America is basking under of glory of what the previous generations did. If our children are not prepared keeping the global economy in mind, innovation, currency ($ being the global currency), prosperity, great military, will all be thing of the past. Time to wakeup....

      May 16, 2014 at 9:10 am | Reply
      • Sunday Williams

        Thank you! We hurt ourselves when we cannot analyze opinions enough to understand how to positively use such opinions to our advantage. CNN may fire Morgan and Career, the truth remains; both have the good of this country at heart than WMSmith24.

        May 17, 2014 at 9:12 am |
      • Lance

        I am on the front lines of the American education system every day and the nay sayers have it wrong. The schools are adequate (could be better), and there are plenty of kids that do just fine. You will never solve the problem of unequal outcomes because not all people are equal. I have many brilliant students, and they absorb everything thrown at them. There will always be a need for labor jobs because not everyone is education material. Most of the other countries we compete with on scores only test their top escilion kids because like in China they track their kids. We put all of our kids up against the top kids from these other places.

        We could do better if we didn't burden our schools with babysitting all the little troublemakers after 8th grade. We need to stop linking education funding to daily attendance and put the federal government in charge of curriculum, but leave the schools under local direction. The states need to butt out. Too many chiefs get involved when you have state legislatures setting funding levels and getting in the way of proper science standards. You don't get better STEM results by having state mandated religious based science education overriding scientific consensus. States also undermine education with cuts that will hurt our ability to compete in the world. In my opinion this is a national security issue. Nothing is more damaging to our nation than a faltering economy and the states are not getting the job done of preparing the kids for the future. The local schools should handle local school policy, and the state's only job should be raising the money to support the federally determined level of funding adjusted by regional averages of expenses.

        June 3, 2014 at 7:27 pm |
    • Kevin

      How long do you think America will last. A decade or too? After that you guys are in deep troubles.

      June 10, 2014 at 10:41 pm | Reply
      • YisYourSpellingSoPoor

        too? I think you are the one in trouble...

        June 14, 2014 at 4:37 am |
  10. john

    To suggest that Common Core is the answer seems silly. I agree that we should look to improve education in the USA. My question is has education gotten better or worse as the federal government has gotten more involved? I would argue that it has gotten worse as things get more bureacratic. The USA colleges and universities remain tops in the world and have no federal oversite. Freed even cites the recent work done by Michael Porter on problems in the USA, but that worked put USA colleges as best in the world. The answer is not in more centralized control but in more local control....

    May 11, 2014 at 7:50 pm | Reply
  11. Hazzelnuts

    Education in America has turned into a joke. That's because it's intended to be that way as part of a massive social experiment of conditioning America for a fascist state. Sound crazy? Think again.

    "They" have been systematically eliminating capable educators and replacing them with incompetent jokers to run the education system at every level from the bottom up. In fact, being a "model teacher" in America is more like being a model babysitter – not a real teacher.

    Students in America have been brainwashed to think they have the same power as the consumers of a massive market. They can demand the kind of service that pleases them – not one that would or could challenge them and help them grow intellectually.

    America is doomed!

    May 11, 2014 at 10:42 pm | Reply
  12. bobhamiltonchicago

    Fareed, You nailed it, but it's much worse than just the secondary schools, it starts at pre-school and then every grade after that. Americans got arrogant after WWII and we have been averaging 4- 8 hours of brain killing TV per DAY since the 1960's, while the rest of the developing world's children were learning to speak English as a second language better than our kids speak it as their only language! We seem to be about 10 years away from realizing that we must demolish our current school structure and rebuild it around individualized, internet based video's. The schools should be free of labor union influence which has caused most of the money spent on schools to be wasted.

    May 12, 2014 at 6:59 am | Reply
  13. Luke

    Poland ranks 10th in the world in education quality, and 5th in Europe. Not sure what this report is about to be honest.
    Not sure if that clip makes sense.

    May 12, 2014 at 8:11 am | Reply
  14. Tman

    It doesn't help that our higher education is a debt racket, a scheme with impossibly high tuition costs and ridiculous and often irrelevant standards for acceptance into the schools. Then even if you are accepted, all you've gained is the privelidge of paying them tens of thousands of dollars for a degree that's nearly exactly the same as a cheaper university but with fancier buildings and more "prestige".

    Look at the rate of inflation, the cost of living, and the median income and compare it to tuition prices. Tuition is sky high in comparision. And where is this money going? Research? No. Reinvesting in the university campus? No. Paying the professors? No.

    So where is the money going? Who is responsible, and why is the media focusing on different way to pay the con artists rather than identifying them and dragging them out into the street for a good beating. (Metaphorical of course). Why are the lawmakers giving them a free pass and millions in student loans and grants?

    Because, the media and the politicians are all alumni. All part of the racket. All benefiting from the debt of our nations young adults and what was formerly the retirement money of their parents.

    May 12, 2014 at 9:18 am | Reply
  15. Rod_1977

    The big problem with American education, is not that we lack resources or that the exams are an issue. The problem is that we have lost sight of the most important aspect. Education should make you wiser and not only more knowledgeable. Our schools and University systems have told students to adhere to a process that is imparting knowledge like bricks, but has failed to teach the students how to think critically.
    On the other hand students and parents seem to have a misconception of what education is and does. Education is not a pre-requisite to take a high pay job. Education is not a label to increase your social status or impress your friends and family. Education is a human need and an obligation to one-self. It should expand your thinking, not narrow it. Unfortunately, like many things in this country we have made education part of the for-profit business. We took a right and turned it into a privilege and now that educational costs are getting higher, this could not be more emphasized.

    May 13, 2014 at 9:55 am | Reply
    • Lance

      You don't learn wisdom in school. You learn knowledge in school, and if you have a good brain, you assemble your knowledge into wisdom through deep thought, and experience. Wisdom is not something that can be taught. It has to be obtained through life experience and deep contemplation. It isn't about learning catch phrases or studying philosophy, though I would suggest that understanding of philosophy can lead to wisdom if you have the right experiences. People always talk about critical thinking skills in schools, but critical thinking skills only work if you have the knowledge base to pull from to make sense of the information. Schools do not create a first rate mind, they create an educated mind, and then if the person works at developing what they learned, they might become a first rate mind. Education is like a google search. It presents the information, but you have to learn how to use it correctly or it is all meaningless. For that you have to do it yourself.

      June 3, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Reply
      • hansstraub

        I agree with Lance's assessment on the purpose of schools with the added observation that schools can also show students how to think critically. That is, people need to see an educated (wise) mind in action. You see this occasionally in TV interviews of thinkers, journalists, professors, and experts, but seldom in schools. I didn't see it till grad' school, a bit late I'd say. What I see most often in schools is teachers too busy just staying afloat to keep researching and developing intellectually. Often they are merely a step ahead of their students in the field being taught. Give teachers at all levels the tools with which to keep up, pay them decently and give them the respect they once had and you'll see a turn around in the poor performance of their charges.

        June 15, 2014 at 10:28 am |
  16. Kev

    Although there are more factors involved, you can start with parents. Over the last 20 years, they've been more concerned with their children following political ideology rather than concerned if they're getting educated properly. Simply.......this country is churning out dumb people now.

    May 13, 2014 at 11:32 am | Reply
  17. sylvia

    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.

    I agree. The sad thing is the money is being spent but the methods of teaching are wrong just as you pointed out. So many students don't even know US history let alone world.

    May 17, 2014 at 10:41 am | Reply
  18. Edna

    I I have lived in the USA for over 60 years, born here. Lots longer than you have lived here. As I see it, people no longer work hard to achieve. We give participation ribbons so those who lost for them to get some sense of satisfaction, even though they won nothing. Govt. handouts abound, and kids should be in school, not at WalMart at noon on a school day. Too many people on govt benefiits and disability. People mus learn to work for a living and contribute to society, not grab anything the govt gives them. Teacher unions have become combative and do not want to give in to this. People who are qualified to supposedly teach history teach math instead. Experienced people in the private sector who are qualified to teach science are shunned, because they do not have a teacher's certificate. What the hell is that worth? Just more mediocrity in our society, that goes on and on. The VA head must roll and govt employees responsible for VA deaths must get jail time. Need I go on? Until personal responsibility and accountability reigns supreme, nothing will change. People have kids and dad leaves. Where is he dad's accountablity? Gays and Lezbos are held in esteem, for what purpose? This must all end!

    May 17, 2014 at 7:37 pm | Reply
  19. Simple King

    Education in America is 25 years behind Asia. Thats why Asia is on the rise. None can stop it.

    May 18, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Reply
    • Bob

      If that is true, then why is 1 out of 5 students at the University of Iowa, and other colleges, from China.

      May 22, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  20. steve reed

    Our growing , and huge, income and wealth inequality in the US is very detrimental to our educational system.Check out Joseph Stiglitz on The Price of Inequality. There are of course many reasons why we are not improving education. But inequality is an important one.

    May 18, 2014 at 9:21 pm | Reply
  21. oogenhand

    Reblogged this on oogenhand and commented:
    Americans do not like to learn several languages. Dutch people have to learn at least four. Dutch, English, German and French. The intellectuals also learn Latin and Greek.

    May 22, 2014 at 12:28 am | Reply
  22. Harlon Katz

    Many on the "right" are upset about the implementation of common core, not the concept. There examples created were wrong in many cases, such as the writing exercise where the correct answer was "The President makes sure the laws are fair". Also, there is a "rewrite" of history that is very anti-conservative, anti-traditional US history. Maybe if the left did not have to push their political agenda into every nook of society, trying to indoctrinate children about how "wrong" the US always is, there would not have been the push-back.

    The other issue is the foolish pandering by fools on the left that any resistance is due to a dislike of Obama – dismissing completely the concerns of the actual implementation or policies. This is very small-minded response.

    May 25, 2014 at 10:29 am | Reply
    • Ricky Ricardo

      Harlon, I believe what the right is upset about is Common Core's effort to instill critical thinking into education. Critical thinking makes people think for themselves,.it helps them see through the lies of your generations dogma.

      June 10, 2014 at 3:14 pm | Reply
  23. Larry

    Why are other countries passing the US? DISCIPLINE.
    All of the countries who are surpassing the US have taught their children discipline, while the US continues to view discipline as a dirty word in the educational environment. We go so far overboard to avoid doing anything that could be perceived as a punishment that kids are growing up believing that there are no consequences for negative behaviors and that they can do whatever they want.

    They don't have to study, because the teachers will do everything to pass them along. They don't have to behave, because they won't get paddled. In other words, they can spend 12 years in school, be absolute monsters who can barely write their names, and still graduate.

    And parents then blame the TEACHERS, even though it's the parents who have caused these nightmares between their outrage when their DARLING child gets in trouble and their complete lack of support for the educational process.

    May 26, 2014 at 7:07 pm | Reply
  24. robert young

    Our focus on college is wrong, less than fifteen percent of jobs need a college degree. We need to stop letting our jobs go offshore to low wage nations. Pay attention to when the middle class started to lose their economic power, and compare that to when the high tech manufacturing jobs moved off shore.

    May 26, 2014 at 9:19 pm | Reply
  25. Vicki

    How ironic that an article about reforming education has multiple grammatical errors...

    May 28, 2014 at 2:58 am | Reply
    • WhatIsIrony?

      That's not irony. It would be ironic if the author was touting the success of American schools, only to prove the opposite through the usage of poor grammar. Sadly, I'm afraid Alanis Morissette has forever ruined proper usage of the word. Love her music, though.

      June 16, 2014 at 1:14 am | Reply
  26. Dr E

    As a former educator I can vouch for the fact that those making laws concerning education have NO interest in producing innovative, critical thinkers, but rather minimum-wage earning tax payers; thinkers would actually challenge the status quo and we CANNOT have that.

    May 29, 2014 at 11:02 am | Reply
  27. Joe Peterson

    Simple diversity does not make us great but freedom does.

    June 2, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Reply
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