While it comes as no surprise that the education reform crowd would use any rhetorical tool to destroy public schools, to do so in the context of making public schools a national security risk is to finally jump the shark. The iconic Happy Days series was never the same after Fonzi, still sporting his leather jacket, jumped over a shark in a pen while on water skies. That a respected, nonpartisan foreign policy organization like the Council on Foreign Relations took part in what’s clearly a charade brings discredit to what was once a trusted observer on US foreign affairs.
For CFR to at least appear to not have been railroaded, dissenting voices on the panel had to be recognized. Valerie Strauss effectively points this out. Stephen S. Walt, a foreign policy scholar, explains that to link ed reforms usual market-based remedies to national security is an irresponsible stretch:
“…The report exaggerates the national security rationale for reforming U.S. K-12 education. It says a troubled public education system is a “very grave national security threat facing the country,” but it offers only anecdotal evidence to support this unconvincing claim. The United States spends more on national security than the next twenty nations combined, has an array of powerful allies around the world, and remains the world leader in science and technology. It also ranks in the top 10 percent of the world’s 193 countries in educational performance, and none of the states whose children outperform U.S. students is a potential rival. Barring major foreign policy blunders unrelated to K-12 education, no country is likely to match U.S. military power or overall technological supremacy for decades. There are good reasons to improve K-12 education, but an imminent threat to our national security is not high among them.
“Second, there is a mismatch between the report’s alarmist tone andits core recommendations. In particular, if the current state of K-12 education were really a “very grave threat to national security,” the Task Force should emphatically support allocating greater resources to meet the challenge. Yet even though key recommendations, such as raising teacher quality, cannot be realized without additional public investment, the report offers only a bland statement that “increased spending may well be justifiable.” It then declares that “money alone is not the answer,” creating the unfortunate impression that the Task Force is trying to solve an alleged national security threat on the cheap.
“Third, the call for a “national security readiness audit” of educational performance repackages the current focus on standards under a misleading label. The proposed audit would not measure “national security readiness,” and it is not clear who will pay for these new reporting requirements or what the consequences of poor performance would be.”
“Fourth, there is no consensus among professional educators, academic scholars, or engaged citizens about the net impact of charter schools, vouchers, or other forms of privatization, because empirical evidence is mixed. The report leans heavily toward one side in this contested set of issues, however, thereby encouraging a policy course that could do more harm than good.”
More than any other dissent, it is Walt’s which should be highlighted by the reports’ critics. He efectively balances a mix of foreign policy realities with the lack of evidence ed reformers have to support their conclusions.