Opinion

Opinion: The Common Core Has Been a Game Changer for Military Schools (and Military Families)

By Mary Scott Hunter | September 2, 2015

Every day the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces make extraordinary sacrifices to uphold the banner of freedom our country stands for. Though much less recognized, their families share this yoke of patriotic duty, frequently uprooting their lives as the call of service demands.
These unsung heroes don’t ask for much in return. Frequent relocations are part of the job description. So of the countless concessions asked of America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and their families, access to a quality education for their children should not be sacrificed. (RELATED ARTICLE: From Coast Guard to the classroom: What one heroic pilot learned when he joined TFA)
Military families move on average six to nine times during a child’s school career, three times more often than a non-military family. Yet, for the more than 240,000 active-duty members of the U.S. military with children, providing a first-rate education for their kids can hinge on little more than a roll of the dice.
As veterans of the United States Air Force, my husband and I have experienced firsthand the demands of military life, including deployment overseas. During our time in the military, we became very familiar with the struggles military families face maintaining high quality education for their children. In fact, that struggle, and our determination to prioritize our three childrens’ education, played a significant role in our decision to separate from the active duty and transition to the Alabama Air National Guard.
This game of education roulette faced by U.S. military members and their families has a real impact on volunteers agreeing to continue their service. In fact, a study published in late June by the Stimson Center, an independent research group focused on security issues, found that discrepancies in education standards could negatively impact the Army’s ability to retain talented men and women.
I am dismayed at the number of students who do not score high enough on the military entrance exam to qualify them for military service
Like any employee evaluating a compensation package, those in the military consider the quality of their child’s education when making career decisions about their future. With little control (and a lot of uncertainty) about where they might be stationed next, quality education can be a real wild card – particularly when there’s no baseline to ensure quality schools.
Military families deserve peace of mind that their children will be able to easily transition from one classroom to the next. The Common Core State Standards, which set high, comparable learning goals for each grade, help to address the lack of consistency and provide a threshold of learning expectations.  States are free to use them as a baseline and build upon the rigor making the standards uniquely their own.  Obviously, the teaching methods, curricula, and many other variables will also continue to provide healthy variance. 
In 2012, the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), adopted the standards for the 181 military schools it oversees around the globe. On the latest national test, more than 82,000 students in these schools outperformed public school students in both fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math. While it’s impossible to attribute these results to education standards alone, evidence suggests the Common Core, and the increased academic rigor it promotes, is working.
In Kentucky, the first state to adopt the Common Core Standards, student proficiency rates in most grades have steadily increased in recent years. Tennessee, another early adopter, now boasts the fastest-improving college-readiness scores in the nation, an eight-percent increase ensures better access to colleges, universities, and careers for their graduates.
After leaving the Air Force, I ran for the Alabama State Board of Education where I fought for higher academic standards. I did so because I believe children of civilian and military families alike deserve to be held to academic expectations that fully prepare them for college and a career. I believe teachers deserve a coherent framework of expectations.  I am dismayed at the number of students who do not score high enough on the military entrance exam to qualify them for military service, and this speaks to a potentially disastrous lack of rigor in American Schools. 
The United States military is paying attention to the education it is offering its service members, and their families. In 2013, General Ray Odierno, Army Chief of Staff, made clear schools must be a priority for policymakers: “I’m worried about military kids in their states,” he said. “What we can do is focus on making sure we’re putting pressure on those responsible for providing the appropriate level of education for our young people, and we are continuing to do that.”
If we hope to improve education outcomes for our children, whether they come from a military family or not, we must not turn back on the important work states are doing to implement standards which are as rigorous — or more rigorous — than the Common Core State Standards.
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