Military children’s education standards affect Army retention

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A new report says that inconsistent education standards of K-12 schools in and around military bases could pose a serious retention issue for the Army.

"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," it concluded.

"Soldiers facing moves to new school systems cannot be certain that the standards from one school will set their child up for success in a new school, in part because of gaps in education standards around the country," it said.

More than 240,000 active duty soldiers have children, and some 300,000 school-age children (ages 5-18) of soldiers are affected by varying education standards.

The report by the Washington, D.C.-based Stimson Center, a non-partisan think tank that focuses on national security and foreign policy-related issues, is titled, "The Army Goes to School – the Connection between K-12 education Standards and the Military Base Economy."

K-12 education has caught the attention of Army leadership as a key retention issue because of the damaging impact that low or inconsistent standards are having on the families of servicemembers.

So much so, in fact, that Gen. Ray Odierno, the outgoing Army chief of staff, has warned that the performance of local schools will be a major consideration of the service in the placement of Army units around the country.

"I get governors and I get congressmen who ask me all the time what they can do for me, and I’m going to tell them what they can do for me," Gen. Odierno said at a 2013 public forum.

Adding, "If they want to keep the military in their communities, 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."

In an effort to help Army leadership with these decisions, 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.

"Some host states already have adopted education standards and have Army-connected school districts that perform well. Other communities with equal economic dependency on the Army are challenged by less rigorous academic standards at the state level or inadequate performance at the school and district levels," the Stimson Center report said.

The report shines a light on one solution to the dilemma – the use of the so-called Common Core State Standards.

These are the only nationwide academic standards today, covering mathematics and language arts.

Developed by state governors and adopted by a majority of U.S. states, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), Common Core State Standards are a set of academic benchmarks that a student must master in each grade level to be on track to graduate high school ready for college or a career.

A majority of states have adopted Common Core, but states that host Army bases differ in the decision of whether to adopt these standards.

As the report shows, Missouri and North Carolina, for example, have adopted Common Core, though both state governments 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. Oklahoma, which hosts Fort Sill, reversed itself and dropped the Common Core standards.

Military base communities have much to lose if they can’t ensure high quality education for the children of service members and the Army pulls up stakes.

According to the report, 19 bases contribute at least 15 cents of each dollar earned in host counties, while 10 of the 19 produce one-third or more of local income, and four of the 19 exceed 50 percent.

"If host communities do not offer soldiers’ children a consistently high-quality education, they risk the economic challenges that result from losing support of a major employer," said the report.

(Editor’s note: Jim Cowen is director of military outreach for the Collaborative for Student Success, (forstudentsuccess.org) – an Alexandria, Va.-based non-profit organization dedicated to raising education standards.)