The Long Term Security of America Depends On The Quality Of Education Given To Military Families

Gov. Jan Brewer Former Governor of Arizona
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The resurgence of foreign extremists that seek to harm America and our allies in recent years reaffirms the importance of a strong national security policy. The wisdom of President Teddy Roosevelt, reiterated by President Reagan – “speak softly and carry a big stick” – holds the same significance today as it did so many years ago.

America is blessed with the strongest and most sophisticated Armed Forces in the world. We owe an irreparable debt of gratitude to the brave men and women who answer the call of duty. Yet, our national security relies on much more than military strength alone. It is structured on the ideals and liberties we champion: competitiveness, innovation and free-thinking. To sustain these pillars, we must raise up each generation with the skills and knowledge to carry such a serious mantle.

Yet, from education experts to everyday parents, we recognize that for too long our school systems have failed to meet this responsibility. In 2013, nineteen countries outperformed the United States in reading according to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). In math, American students ranked 30th among 65 developed nations. The same year, only two percent of U.S. students reached the highest levels of math.

Those findings carry significant implications about our ability to uphold the United States’ reputation as a global leader of commerce and innovation. And the impact on our military is even more immediate; a Pentagon study found about a quarter of high-school graduates could not pass the basic Armed Services entrance exam.

This endemic problem is in no way attributable to our educators, nor a sign that somehow American students today are any less talented than those that preceded them. Instead, it is a product of the patchwork of academic expectations that for years allowed states to systematically lower the bar on student achievement.

A recent analysis by Achieve, a non-profit education advocacy organization, found most states grossly inflated proficiency rates in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math. More than half of all states demonstrated a 30-point or more discrepancy in what the study aptly described as an “Honesty Gap.”

Recognizing this troubling reality, leaders in more than 40 states adopted the Common Core Education Standards – rigorous, comparable learning goals for reading and math that clearly outline a roadmap for each grade level to ensure public school students who graduate high school are fully prepared for college, a career or military service.

Although the standards are only now taking root – most states administered assessments designed to test to the new benchmarks this year – evidence from first states to adopt and implement them suggest the Common Core is working. In Kentucky, the earliest state to begin teaching to the standards, college-readiness scores and proficiency rates at most grade levels have steadily increased. Tennessee, another early adopter, demonstrated the biggest academic improvements in the country.

For military families, who already sacrifice so much for our country, the Common Core provides much-needed stability. The average military family will move six to nine times during a child’s K-12 career. By continuity between states, Common Core Standards help ensure a military child does not fall behind or have to sit through lessons they’ve already learned during these transitions, depending on what the school they left was teaching. Already, the 180 schools operated by the Department of Defense have begun using the standards.

This week the Stimson Center, an independent research institute for security issues, released a study underscoring the importance of high, comparable education standards for Army families, bases and preparedness. The findings were striking. It reports that the quality of education available to soldiers’ children could affect retention, impact the economic stability of communities surrounding bases, and, perhaps most importantly, that in the absence of consistent standards the quality of education can vary significantly.

As school districts have started to implement the standards, controversy has grown – often sold on misleading and downright false information. Fortunately, parents remain committed to rigorous academic expectations for their children and increased accountability for their schools. More than a dozen legislatures voted down bills seeking to repeal the standards this year, and after two national elections all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt the Common Core continue to use it, or a set of standards different only in name.

As Governor of Arizona, I stood up for the standards, often against those in my own party. I encourage policymakers today to show the same resolve. We owe it to men and women in uniform, if not for the long-term security of our country, not to turn back on the good work states have begun to implement the Common Core.

Jan Brewer was Governor of Arizona from 2009 to 2014.