See also: The Competition that Really Matters: Comparing U.S., Chinese and Indian Investments in the Next Generation Workforce by Donna Cooper, Adam Hersh, and Ann O’Leary
China and India demand our attention because of the sheer size of their populations and economies. China has 1.35 billion people, more than any other nation. India has 1.2 billion, trailing only China. The United States ranks third with 313 million people. Already, China and India are educating more of their citizens than ever before—and they are doing so in larger numbers than the United States.
In the United States approximately 4 million students enter first grade, but only 1.4 million end up with a college degree. Not every student needs a college education, but if we are to compete effectively with these two rising powerhouse nations then many more U.S. students will need postsecondary credentials. That’s a big challenge because 6 out of 10 11th grade students are testing below grade level in math and reading, and only about half of the students who end up going to college get a degree.
To prepare America’s next generation workforce requires big changes to our uncoordinated approach to educational standards; the methods we employ to select, train, and reward great teachers; the quality and reach of our early-childhood education system; the structure of high school; and supports for parents. These big changes require national leadership, new federal policies, and resources behind those policies. The big changes are among the most essential for the next generation of our nation to have a fighting chance in the competition that really matters. The result will determine their livelihood and the strength of the United States in the global economy.
The chart below demonstrates why.
Donna Cooper is a Senior Fellow with the Economic Policy team at the Center for American Progress. Adam Hersh is an Economist at the Center for American Progress, focusing on economic growth, macroeconomics, international economics, and China and other Asian economies. Ann O’Leary is director of The Children and Families Program at the Center for the Next Generation, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, and a lecturer at the University California Berkeley School of Law.