How Common Core Helps the Military and Military Families

How Common Core Helps the Military and Military Families
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General Carter Ham and his wife, Christi Ham. (Photo courtesy Richard Bumgardner, U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs)

RCEd Commentary

One of things I learned over my husband’s 38-year Army career is the value that the military places on education. And it’s a critical emphasis for the sake of America’s future and national security.

This happens on two levels.

On one level, the military needs soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who have the skills necessary to operate effectively in today’s Armed Forces. On the other, those of us who have signed up with Uncle Sam for a career want to make sure our children get the best education possible.

On both levels, our education system is not operating as promised.

Unfortunately, many of the men and women trying to enter the Army today don’t have the basic educational skills to take these positions. According to The Education Trust, more than 20 percent cannot pass the basic military entrance exam. And these are high school graduates.

The percentage of recruits who score high enough to qualify for the specialized positions, such as aviation or cyber warfare, is even more dire. Less than half of white recruits perform well enough. The numbers are much worse for recruits of color. Only 25 percent of Hispanic and 18 percent of African-American recruits score high enough to meet the requirements.

We also see the failings of the education system every day with our own families.

Military families are more sensitive to quality of education issues than most non-military families because we are constantly moving. During my husband’s military career, we moved 26 times in 38 years.

Consider how this affects children. The average military family moves anywhere from six to nine times throughout a child’s K-12 career. That’s a new school every year-and-a-half to two years. That’s a lot of schools.

When moving, military families tap into informal networks that let us know where the good schools are near our new duty station. Military families know that Department of Defense Education Activity schools are some of our nation’s finest – but when access to DoDEA schools isn’t possible, the vast majority of parents choose public schools as their first option.

Yet, at some bases, the nearby public schools are lacking. When this happens, many families look at alternatives. For our family, Catholic schools were our escape valve. Other military families turn to private schools. In some cases, parents take more dramatic actions. I know of several cases where a command-grade officer either resigned his position or refused an assignment over the quality of schools near a specific base.

But as public servants, military families shouldn’t have to seek out these alternatives.

Unfortunately, academic standards in public schools have varied from community to community and state to state. In some cases, our children have already mastered what their teachers were teaching. In other cases, they entered classes far behind their peers.

What the military and military families need is simple. We need to know that our children will receive a high-quality education. We also need to ensure that all students – not just military-connected ones – will be able to easily transfer from school to school without penalty.

Fortunately, a solution already exists that represents our best chance to raise the bar for all students. They are the set of high, consistent standards known as the Common Core State Standards. DoDEA is already implementing the College and Career Ready Standards, which are based on the Common Core. With these more rigorous standards, our children have a fighting chance to succeed.

That’s why concerned military families have formed Military Families for High Standards. Our goal is to educate families – military and not -- as well as federal, state and local officials about the benefits of high, consistent standards. We also want to provide another voice to counter those who argue against high standards.

One lesson I learned as a military spouse is to find a solution that works and then embrace it. As a parent and an educator, I saw that setting a high bar and then challenging children to jump it often was the way to ensure success. Common Core does that.

For the sake of the military, and our military families, Common Core deserves the opportunity to help fix our education problems – and improving our economy and national security along the way.

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