Starving the Future
By CHARLES M. BLOW
Emerging economic powers China and India are heavily investing in educating the world’s future workers while we squabble about punishing teachers and coddling children.
This week, the Center for American Progress and the Center for the Next Generation released a report entitled “The Race That Really Matters: Comparing U.S., Chinese and Indian Investments in the Next Generation Workforce.” The findings were breathtaking:
• Half of U.S. children get no early childhood education, and we have no national strategy to increase enrollment.
• More than a quarter of U.S. children have a chronic health condition, such as obesity or asthma, threatening their capacity to learn.
• More than 22 percent of U.S. children lived in poverty in 2010, up from about 17 percent in 2007.
• More than half of U.S. postsecondary students drop out without receiving a degree.
Now compare that with the report’s findings on China. It estimates that “by 2030, China will have 200 million college graduates — more than the entire U.S. work force,” and points out that by 2020 China plans to:
• Enroll 40 million children in preschool, a 50 percent increase from today.
• Provide 70 percent of children in China with three years of preschool.
• Graduate 95 percent of Chinese youths through nine years of compulsory education (that’s 165 million students, more than the U.S. labor force).
• Ensure that no child drops out of school for financial reasons.
• More than double enrollment in higher education.
And the report also points out that “by 2017, India will graduate 20 million people from high school — or five times as many as in the United States.”
As I have mentioned before, a book written last year by Jim Clifton, the chairman of Gallup, called “The Coming Jobs War,” pointed out that of the world’s five billion people over 15 years old, three billion said they worked or wanted to work, but there are only 1.2 billion full-time, formal jobs.
This should make it crystal clear to every American that we don’t have any time — or students — to waste. Every child in this country must be equipped to perform. The country’s future financial stability depends on it.
As if to underscore that point, the Center for American Progress pointed out that “between 2000 and 2008, China graduated 1.14 million people in the STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, subjects; the United States graduated 496,000.”
But instead of dramatically upping our investment in our children’s education so that they’ll be able to compete in a future that has more educated foreign job seekers, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction. A White House report issued last Saturday noted that:
“Since the end of the recession in June 2009, the economy lost over 300,000 local education jobs. The loss of education jobs stands in stark contrast to every other recovery in recent years, under Republican and Democratic administrations.”
Not only is our education system being starved of investment, but many of our children are literally too hungry to learn.
A survey of kindergarten through eighth-grade teachers released this week by Share Our Strength, a nonprofit that seeks to end child hunger, found that 6 in 10 of those teachers say “students regularly come to school hungry because they are not getting enough to eat at home,” and “a majority of teachers who see hunger as a problem believe that the problem is growing.”
The report quotes a teacher in the Midwest as saying, “The saddest are the children who cry when we get out early for a snow day because they won’t get lunch.”
It is in this environment that Representative Paul Ryan proposes huge cuts to food assistance programs. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, Ryan’s plan “includes cuts in SNAP (formerly known as the food stamp program) of $133.5 billion — more than 17 percent — over the next 10 years (2013-22), which would necessitate ending assistance for millions of low-income families, cutting benefits for millions of such households, or some combination of the two.”
Representative Todd Akin, he of “legitimate rape” infamy, even said earlier this month that the federal government should stop financing the National School Lunch Program altogether. That man is just a font of humanity.
We will need to make choices as we seek to balance the nation’s budget and reduce the deficit, but cutting investments in our children is horribly shortsighted.
And, as we pursue educational reforms, beating up on teachers — who are underpaid, overworked and always blamed — is a distraction from the real problem: We’re being outpaced in producing the employees of the future.
We’re cutting back, while our children’s future competitors are plowing ahead.