Center for American Progress

RELEASE: No Gold Medal Here: U.S. is Lagging Behind Global Competitors in Commitment to Education, New Study Finds
Press Release

RELEASE: No Gold Medal Here: U.S. is Lagging Behind Global Competitors in Commitment to Education, New Study Finds

Washington, D.C. — In an era when the next generation will be expected to compete for jobs in a global economy, America’s commitment to education is waning while the growing economies of China and India are investing more than ever, according to a new report released today. The report, The Competition that Really Matters: Comparing U.S., Chinese and Indian Investments in the Next Generation Workforce,” finds that while the United States won the medal count at the London Olympics, China, India, and several European countries are dramatically out-competing the United States when it comes to improving educational outcomes.  An infographic, also released today, provides a snapshot of the significant investment disparities between the U.S., China, and India.

The study, a joint initiative of The Center for the Next Generation and Center for American Progress underscores how America’s global competitiveness is being threatened by a lack of focus on preparing our next generation for what is an increasingly global market for jobs, industries, and economic sectors.

“The challenges presented by this report are clear,” said Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware. “We know these challenges present an unparalleled opportunity—to redefine how we work together to prepare our children for success in a changing world.  There is nothing more important than that.”

The Competition that Really Mattersreport found that the investments by China and India ultimately translate to greater numbers of young people moving through public schools, attending college, attaining degrees, and becoming highly qualified candidates for jobs in key industries. Both countries are rapidly increasing their share of children enrolled at all levels of the education system—from early learning programs to high schools to universities—and these investments have propelled the countries to the top two in the world by number of children educated. For this reason, The Competition That Really Mattersrecommends that the next president convene the nation’s governors for a 2013 national summit as a renewed commitment to improving educational outcomes for the critical job needs of the years ahead.

Key findings from “The Competition That Really Matters” report include:

  • College Graduates in the Global Economy:  By 2030 China will have 200 million college graduates—more than the entire U.S. workforce—and by 2020 India will be graduating four times as many college graduates annually as the United States.
  • Preparing college graduates for the jobs of the future:  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.
  • Investments in early childhood education:  Half of U.S. children receive no early childhood education and the U.S. lacks a national strategy to increase enrollment.  By 2020 China will provide 70 percent of its children with three years of preschool. India plans to increase the number of children entering school ready to learn from 26 percent to 60 percent by 2018.
  • Improving teacher quality:  In China the number of teachers with bachelor’s degree has increased 66 percent in just eight years, with almost two-thirds of primary school teachers having a higher degree.  In the United States high school students who choose to enter undergraduate programs for education have SAT scores on average in the bottom third of all students tested which stands in sharp contrast to nations with impressive student results.
  • Academic achievement: The United States needs to close the racial and income gaps in literacy and focus on a nationwide overhaul to improving math education, efforts in which China and India are succeeding. Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, scores show that U.S. 15-year olds would score first in the world in reading if only students attending the richest schools in the country took the test, and third if only white American students took the test (actual ranking is 14th out of 34). In math literacy the United States ranks 25th among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries—with U.S. students from wealthy school districts scoring in the 50th percentile in math relative to students in other developed countries. Among the students who outperformed Americans on the PISA were those from Shanghai, who had the highest average scores in math and reading of all 65 nations and regions undergoing the exam.

“Americans triumphed at the Olympics, but when it comes to the next generation we risk not even making it onto the podium because we are failing to properly educate and prepare our youth for the jobs of the future,” said Matt James, president and CEO of The Center for the Next Generation. “Given how quickly countries like India and China are growing, the U.S. can’t afford to wait any longer to provide our next generation with what they need to be successful in today’s global economy.”

“This research demonstrates that the problems in the United States come not from a lack of understanding of how to improve our school system and integrate parents with their children’s development – it is related to the political will to do it,” said Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress. “We need a commitment from the very top to invest in America’s children and families. Our economic security and prosperity depends on children being properly educated and prepared for the global workforce.  Only a renewed leadership on education as a national priority and real investments at all levels of government will enable the United States to remain economically competitive and we owe it to the next generation to act now.”

CAP and The Center for the Next Generation recommend that U.S. policymakers:

  • Set national goals and achieve them. “The Competition That Really Matters calls for a commitment to Common Core Standards and for the president and nation’s governors to hold a national summit on education and global competitiveness in early 2013.
  • Support training and sustain highly effective teachers. The Competition That Really Matters calls for increased commitment to teacher training and retention of highly effective teachers.
  • Invest in early education and support increased parental involvement. “The Competition that Really Matters calls for a national commitment to invest in early education and policy changes in workplace practices that will allow for increased parental involvement.

In addition to the report, The Center for the Next Generation also released today a bipartisan national opinion survey, The Center for the Next Generation Survey of American Voters Attitudes on Education and Global Competitiveness,” indicating that voters recognize that the United States is falling behind other countries when it comes to education and that some of the blame goes to political leaders. In a sign of pessimism toward the current and future state of U.S. education, 52 percent of voters think the next Bill Gates will come from another country and 47 percent think the scientist who cures cancer will come from another country. Despite giving leaders low marks on education, voters say restoring America’s leadership in education and increasing investments in education should be a top priority for the next president, the next Congress, and their states’ governors. A strong majority of voters across party lines say they would be willing to pay more in taxes and reduce spending in other areas if the funds were dedicated to K-12 education programs. Voters’ willingness to personally pay more comes from a strong belief that the United States should be a world leader in education and that it is critical that the United States keep up with other countries.


The Center for the Next Generation works to shape national dialogue around two major challenges that affect the prospects of America’s Next Generation—advancing a sustainable energy future and improving opportunities for children and families. As a nonpartisan organization, the Center generates original strategies that advance these goals through research, policy development and strategic communications. In our home state of California, the Center works to create ground-tested solutions that demonstrate success to the rest of the nation.

The Center for American Progress is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just and free America that ensures opportunity for all. We believe that Americans are bound together by a common commitment to these values and we aspire to ensure that our national policies reflect these values. We work to find progressive and pragmatic solutions to significant domestic and international problems and develop policy proposals that foster a government that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”


Just released!

Interactive: Mapping access to abortion by congressional district

Click here