The global competitiveness of the U.S. education system continues to drive much of the school reform dialogue. The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) contributed to the conversation last week with a broad report on the progress and productivity of education in the U.S.

In Remedial Education: Federal Education Policy, Rebecca Strauss, associate director of Renewing America publications at CFR considers the most critical challenges facing America’s education system. The report identifies the system’s biggest problems: achievement gaps between the rich and poor, inequality in government spending and performance outcomes, and rising college tuition. After this bleak diagnosis, Strauss presents a comprehensive summary of the federal government’s efforts at improving the state of public education. The report identifies four pillars to innovation: (1) “improving teacher evaluation and effectiveness; (2) expanding high-quality charter schools; (3) encouraging states to adopt common, college-ready standards; and (4) developing data systems to track student performance.”

The report describes the federal government’s continued implementation of accountability standards through the Bush and Obama administrations. This is evidenced by further teacher effectiveness and data-driven education developments. In her appraisal of charter school innovations, Strauss recognizes Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools as one of many high-quality charter school models that have improved tests scores for students struggling in urban areas. The report also reviews stagnant Pre-K funding, expanding community college options, and the necessity of federal student loans in its broad summation of the federal government’s education agenda.

The report asserts that properly implemented Common Core state standards will lead to “big efficiency gains,” something Ohioans should note as its school districts prepare themselves for full implementation of the Common Core standards in English and math in 2014-15. As Ohio continues to consider the benefits of Common Core, parents and schools alike should be excited by the opportunity for innovation and higher rigor, as identified by the CFR and many others.

The report provides a wide-ranging progress scorecard for U.S. education. Despite its broad summary, it offers an international lens in which to consider education policy and its impact on foreign and national security matters. The CFR rarely comments on education policy, but when it does it gives a much needed global context to the importance of local school reform.

SOURCE: Rebecca Straus, Remedial Education: Federal Education Policy (New York City: The Council on Foreign Relations, June 2013).

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