The U.S. Army is deeply concerned about K-12 education standards. If U.S. soldiers are left with no other option than to place their children in substandard schools or in schools in which the education standards vary greatly from one to the next, Army leaders worry that troops might well vote with their feet and leave the service.
The issue of education standards is an important one for any parent. But for parents who are members of the U.S. armed forces and who move many times during a military career, it is particularly pointed. With more than 240,000 active-duty U.S. soldiers who are also parents, some 300,000 school-age children (ages 15-18) of soldiers are affected by varying education standards and performance.
A new report from Stimson Center, a non-partisan think tank that focuses on national security and foreign policy-related issues, warns of the inconsistent education standards and the threat to retention:
Soldiers expect family care as part of the overall package of compensation provided in exchange for their service and could perceive the value of their compensation as lower if the quality of their children’s educational experience is inconsistent.
General Ray Odierno, the outgoing Army Chief of Staff, has warned that the performance of local schools will be a major consideration in the placement—and possible shifting—of Army units around the country. If communities are serious about keeping the military in their towns, Gen. Odierno said at a 2013 public forum, “they better start paying attention to the schools that are outside and inside our installations. Because as we evaluate and as we make decisions on future force structure, that will be one of the criteria.”
The Army is completing a far-reaching evaluation of local schools. The review—known as the WestEd study—will single out communities that meet the Army’s baseline education standards while identifying those that do not. In short, the WestEd study will serve as a warning to those communities with low or inconsistent education standards: either fix the problem or potentially face the departure of Army units—and the associated economic benefits.
The Stimson Center report highlights one solution: the use of high, consistent academic standards like the Common Core.
A majority of states have adopted these standards, but states that host Army bases differed in their decisions to adopt the Common Core. As the report shows, Missouri and North Carolina, for example, have adopted Common Core, though both states are reviewing their commitment to the rigorous standards. Texas, which hosts some 80,000 soldiers, has not adopted Common Core standards. The same is true for Virginia and Alaska, which also have sizeable Army populations. Oklahoma, which hosts Fort Sill, reversed its decision to adopt Common Core standards.
Soldiers expect a certain level of care for their families as part of their service to our country—and that care must now include education. As servicemembers and their families move from post to post, they deserve a guarantee that their children are receiving a standard of education that will prepare them for their futures.
The military—and their host communities—have much to lose if states can’t ensure high quality education for the children of servicemembers.