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MOOCs with a Purpose: Understanding the True State of U.S Education

• Samantha Tankersley

“Educational opportunity is the key to economic opportunity.”

Patricia Levesque, CEO of ExcelinEd


“What we found is that the glue, the cohesion that holds America together really is beginning to erode…In the absence of that glue, that deep belief in upward mobility, the Horatio Alger story in America, our national security would be eroded from within.”

Joel Klein, ExcelinEd board member and Co-Chair of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Task Force on U.S. Education Reform and National Security


EdPolicy Leaders Online created a “Securing Our Nation’s Future: The Urgent Need for Education Reform” to provide a compelling look into the “why” behind education reform while offering participants a brief introduction to the “how.” We are certainly not the first to broach the subject of education reform and national security. In fact, this conversation truly began over thirty years ago. Yes, you read that correctly— over thirty years ago.

In 1983, “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform” brought attention to the direct connection between America’s declining education system and the well-being of American society and national security. To put this into perspective, here are other events that also occurred in 1983:

  • The Washington Redskins won Super Bowl XVII.
  • Sally Ride became the first American woman in space.
  • Microsoft Word was released.
  • Harold Washington was elected as the first African American mayor of Chicago.

EdPolicy LogoClearly the United States has come a long way since 1983 (though, sadly, we haven’t seen a positive change for the Redskins). So with all these advancements, why has America’s education system remained the same?

Exactly thirty years after “A Nation at Risk” was released, the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) formed an independent task force to publish the report “U.S. Education Reform and National Security.” This task force, chaired by Dr. Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein, built upon “A Nation at Risk” and continued to explore the relationship between education reform and America’s national security.

The report notes that while the United States invests more in K-12 public education than many other countries, its students are still less prepared to compete globally. In fact, according to the 2012 PISA results, American teenagers are now ranked 27th in math, 20th in science and 17th in reading.[i]

In addition, the report states that the United States has slipped ten spots in both high school and college educational attainment over the last generation. More than 25 percent of students fail to graduate from high school in four years, and for African American and Hispanic students this number is approaching 40 percent. Of those who do obtain a high school diploma, three-quarters are not ready for college coursework and often need remedial classes at both the university and community college levels.[ii]

The report also discusses the effect this lack of educational preparation has had upon our military, and consequently our national security. Nearly 25 percent of those who took the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) failed to achieve a qualifying score, thus severely limiting those who qualify to join America’s finest. [iii]

Despite the concerns outlined by “A Nation at Risk” thirty years ago and the findings of the CFR Report, our education system has yet to undergo the change necessary to ensure student success.

This conversation – the link between the American dream, national security and education – is the soul of the education reform movement. Instead of waiting another thirty years to reignite this conversation, EdPolicy Leaders Online seeks to foster lasting change through this free, self-paced, online course “Securing Our Nation’s Future: The Urgent Need for Education Reform.”  Enroll now to learn more!


To begin your own learning experience, sign up for EdPolicy Leaders Online today. 

Click the links below to read more EdFly blog posts in this series:


[i] (Source: OECD, US PISA results, 2012)

[ii] (Source: Council on Foreign Relations, US Education Reform and National Security, 2012)

[iii] (Source: Education Trust, Shutout of the Military: Today’s High School Education Doesn’t Mean You’re Ready for Today’s Army, 2010)

About the author

Samantha Tankersley

Samantha is the Policy Coordinator for the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s new initiative, EdPolicy Leaders Online. Before joining ExcelinEd, Samantha served as an advocacy intern for the Foundation for Florida's Future while simultaneously pursuing her master's in Public Administration from Florida State University. Samantha has also served as a teaching assistant for international schools in England and Switzerland. She received her bachelor's degree in Education from the University of Central Florida in 2012.