According to a report released by Mission Readiness, a non-partisan national security organization of senior retired military leaders calling for smart investments in America’s Children, nearly 75 percent of Americans aged 17 to 24 do not meet one or more of the basic qualifications to join our nation’s armed forces. That is a staggering number and should give all of us pause.
Although a wide variety of reasons exist as to why these young adults do not fulfill the requirements for enlistment, the report makes clear that one of the biggest obstacles is the failure of our schools to prepare them academically. Mission Readiness found that not only are too many young people failing to graduate, many of those who do graduate lack the foundational skills necessary to take their place in the military or the modern workforce.
“Just as business and industry need a highly qualified workforce to compete in the 21st century global marketplace, our Armed Forces need the same highly qualified soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen to protect our future national security. Full implementation of the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards and aligned assessments is an important part of our future national security.”
That quote comes from Daniel J. O’Neill, a retired U.S. Army major general and the former superintendent of schools for the Wayne Highlands School District in northeastern Pennsylvania. He now serves as the Pennsylvania state commissioner on the Military Interstate Children’s Combat Commission’s Executive Advisory Council for Mission Readiness: Military Leaders for Kids. He gets military readiness and education – and how the two depend on one another.
When the Common Core State Standards were initially developed, they were birthed out of a deep concern that American children were falling further and further behind their peers in other nations. The implications for a generation (or more) of school children unprepared to meet the challenges of a new global economy were frightening on many fronts.
But the tide is beginning to turn. Nearly five years later, the Common Core State Standards are in place across the country, states and school districts are doing the hard work of developing curricula and teaching approaches that work for their local situations, and students are raising their achievement levels to meet the more rigorous standards expected of them.
Unfortunately, for reasons that have little to do with what the math and English Language Arts standards actually contain, they have increasingly become a political rallying call. Lost in the crossfire are the realities that the standards were meant to address. One reality often over looked is the support of the standards by the senior leaders who have served our nation in the nation’s armed forces. But it isn’t just military readiness that concerns them; it is also the realities of the military families’ lives on the move.
“I don’t know if people understand if kids are going to move six to nine times and be in six to nine different school districts. Hopefully we’re creating that awareness that Common Core would make it easier for children to change school districts. If we don’t do something like this, or we ignore it, we may lose part of our competitive edge with some of the states that do adopt it… With the emphasis on STEM, we’re going to have a problem with recruiting in the future if we’re not producing students ready to join the military”
This quote, by Brigadier General Michael Stone, assistant adjutant general for installations for the Michigan Army National Guard, sums up the views of many who serve. Nearly 1.5 million school-aged children are being raised in military families. The Common Core State Standards provide a clear, rigorous set of standards that outline the knowledge and skills children should master on a grade-by-grade level. They allow a military parent to feel certain that when they are ordered to transfer from Maxwell Air Force base in Alabama to Wright Patterson in Ohio, their children will be ready to join their new classmates at the equivalent grade level.
It is the voices of those children and their parents, as well as the voices of senior military officers, that don’t always get included in the “debate” over the Common Core State Standards. But their voices – and their views – do in fact matter. Our future as a nation may very well depend on it.