Our state was recently in the national spotlight when it became the first in the nation to have its waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 revoked by the U.S. Department of Education.
There are widely divergent opinions as whether or not that act should still be the foundation of national education policy and the basis for federal dollars allocated to states. The Washington Education Association – the state teachers’ union – successfully convinced legislators to reject the weighting proposed for standardized test scores as a part of teacher evaluations. We sincerely hope a fair and multifacetted evaluation system will be agreed upon soon.
As retired military leaders who have spent our careers developing and leading young people, we can state unequivocally that we agree with teachers on K-12 education’s most important goal – higher student achievement that prepares young people for life after high school. The Department of Defense estimates that 75 percent of young Americans aged 17 to 24 cannot even consider military service as an option, many because they are unprepared to meet the minimum academic qualifications.
This is a staggering number and should give us all pause.
“Just as business and industry need a highly qualified workforce to compete in the 21st-century global marketplace, our armed forces need the same highly qualified soldiers, sailors, Marines and aviators to protect our national security,” said Daniel J. O’Neill, a retired U.S. Army major general and a superintendent of school in northeastern Pennsylvania. He understands both military readiness and education – and how the two depend on one another.
The Common Core State Standards were initially developed out of a deep concern that American children were falling far behind their peers in other countries. The implications of a generation (or more) of schoolchildren unprepared to meet the challenges of a new global economy were frightening on many fronts.
Washington state’s Common Core Standards establish rigorous, internationally benchmarked learning goals that outline what students should know in mathematics and English Language Arts upon high school graduation and at each grade level in the K-12 system. Education leaders in our state helped shape the standards along with teachers, researchers and subject-matter experts in 44 other states. And the U.S. Department of Defense has also adopted the standards for use in its schools on military bases across the world.
Common Core Standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but provide clear goals for student learning. Teachers are free to use their own creativity and expertise to develop the instructional strategies that work best for each classroom and each student. This last point is especially important to the more than two million children from military families who will move, on average, nine times during their K-12 years.
We are greatly encouraged that significant transformation of our education system is well underway with higher standards for students, greater accountability for teachers and principals, and a broader range of innovative approaches that enable students to learn through experiential and project-based programs. In short, quality education is being delivered in more creative and effective ways that are connecting with many students who previously saw little relevance between their studies and the “real world.”
Washington citizens all share a commitment to bridging the “opportunity gap.” Where you grow up, what language you speak at home, how much money your family has, or what state you live in should not determine your opportunity to learn in school and succeed in life.
Paul Eaton, a Fox Island resident, is a retired U.S. Army major general. Bill Center, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, is a former commander of Naval District Puget Sound and is an adjunct professor at the University of Washington’s Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs. They are both members of Mission: Readiness, a national nonprofit group advocating for America’s children.