Common Core’s high standards, accountability matter to military families

James 'Spider' Marks | Major General, Ret.

Most people consider education reform a domestic policy issue. Far fewer recognize the critical impact education has on national security preparedness and those asked to guarantee it: our military and their families.

Today, a startling number of students are graduating from high school woefully unprepared to meet the academic requirements to qualify for military service. In fact, 30 percent of high school graduates cannot pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), the basic military entrance exam.  The rate is even worse among minority and underprivileged students.

These are not high school dropouts, or kids that have been removed from traditional public schools because of disciplinary problems; they are high school graduates.

The U.S. military is the strongest force of leadership and compassion in the world. But as a long line of men and women who have honorably answered the call of duty bear witness, America’s military is only as strong as the individuals in its ranks. A chronic disruption of those prepared to serve will undermine the readiness of the armed forces. This is the most highly qualified and battle hardened military in our nation’s history. Let’s not risk it.

The military holds high standards because the men and women entering any branch of service must be prepared to join one of the most advanced, high-tech organizations in the world. From the infantryman to the research engineer, much more is expected from U.S. troops than at any other time in history. America needs an education system that can support those demands and can do so uniformly, regardless of where we ask our military members to serve and where their kids go to school.

Common Core standards are strongly supported by military families because these state-driven standards establish clear benchmarks and high expectations in core subjects that students should be able to meet upon graduation. They emphasize both content and depth of understanding to ensure students are able to apply knowledge, and are not simply groomed for standardized testing.

Of equal importance, they create a uniform yardstick among states that gives military parents the peace of mind that there will be consistency in their children’s education, not a standard that changes as often as the families are asked to move. Like all parents, we want our kids to be successful in school, to be pushed, to be challenged, and not lag behind or be bored. We ask  lot of these military families; educational disruption should not be one of them.

In fact, our military families move so often, this problem continues to be especially troublesome. The average military kid will move twice in high school alone. In the entire K-12 span, most military children will attend six to nine different schools. My daughters (I have three) moved 11 times before each graduated from high school — each of them attended three different high schools. This is the norm for many military families. This was an amazingly wonderful and culturally enriching experience for all of my kids, but the educational standards were all over the map. Thankfully, they did well. But it was based more on luck and their hard work than a clear educational path. Luck should never be the basis of any plan.

The prospect of routine moves or relocating to a community with poor schools not only puts tremendous emotional and financial strain on military families but also impacts their decision to remain in military service.

To its credit, the Department of Defense Education Activity, the agency responsible for overseeing all military school programs at home and abroad, adopted the Common Core Standards in 2010. In doing so, it joined 45 states, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. territories to recognize the need for uniform standards.

Unfortunately, there are some very vocal constituencies on both the ideological left and right that are seeking to upend the progress Common Core has made. Some of the arguments against the standards are legitimate. No reform is perfect, and to the extent that some of the shortcomings of this reform can be corrected, they should be.

But the vast majority of criticisms against the standards are based either on misinformation and inaccuracies or on resistance to change, specifically, the accountability inherent in Common Core.

In the Army, we are trained from day one that responsibility and accountability matter. Leaders are responsible for making necessary decisions, often very tough ones. Ultimately, Common Core State Standards are about higher standards and increased accountability. Those are core values to the military, and they help explain why support for the standards is so high among military families. They also explain why more and more military families are speaking out in support of this important reform. Let’s give their concerns — our concerns — a clear voice.

James “Spider” Marks is the former Commanding General of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center.

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