Veterans Memorial Park

Viewpoint: Academic standards support military readiness

  • June 6, 2015
  • /   Roger E. Rowe, USA BG Ret.
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If you are a parent of a child who attends schools in Escambia County, you have good reason to be concerned that 38 percent of the high school freshmen are not graduating within four years.

Unfortunately that could also be bad news to everyone who benefits from the economic impact of Pensacola Naval Air Station and other military installations.

That is the lead headline from a new report from the 500 retired generals and admirals who are members of Mission: Readiness. The report, "Keeping Our Families and Our Country Strong," details the potential impact of student achievement around major military installations that could be affected by the Base Realignment and Closure process.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told the Military Times that if states "want to keep the military in their communities, they'd 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."

Gen. Odierno made that comment in response to a report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense to assess student academic achievement in communities surrounding installations as measured by state-mandated assessments, attendance, exposure to quality teaching, graduation and drop-out rates, and college readiness based on ACT and SAT scores.

Although the study did not examine installations in Florida, it is ample cause for concern because our state is home to the seventh-largest, active-military population in the nation, including the more than 13,000 personnel stationed in Pensacola. While military installations in Florida contribute more than $70 billion to the state's economy, nearly two-thirds are located in counties where high school graduation rates are lower than the statewide average.

Fortunately the report also had some good news. It described how the continuing implementation of the Florida Standards Assessments will ensure more students are ready for college and demanding careers when they graduate. Created by teachers and subject matter experts, these standards provide clear expectations for what students should know and be able to do in mathematics and English Language Arts at every level of K-12 schooling so teachers and parents know students are prepared to advance to the next grade. They foster multidisciplinary lessons that mirror real-world learning experiences. They encourage students to communicate more effectively through active listening, and to think critically.

While these outcomes are obviously important to employers, they also address a significant challenge for young people who aspire to the honor of military service. Presently, about 21 percent of the young adults in Florida who want to join the military fail to qualify because they cannot pass the military exam that assesses their mathematics, literacy and problem-solving skills – the same skills that are strengthened through the Florida Standards.

Assessments tied to the standards are equally important because they are a meaningful measure of whether students have mastered the content at each grade, which is also an indicator of readiness for the next grade. Ultimately, they should stem the problem of "social promotion" and prevent more students from failing.

Implementation of these standards and assessments does present challenges. Some parents are learning their children are not performing as well as they expected. Some naysayers continue to perpetuate the myth that schools are constrained by the standards – even though teachers are still completely free to shape their own lessons.

But the effort must stay on track to improve student achievement, protect the economic health of our communities, and prepare all young adults for higher education and careers, including the military for those who choose that path.

Roger E. Rowe is a retired Army brigadier general. He lives in Gulf Breeze and serves on the Veterans Memorial Park of Pensacola Foundation.

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Veterans Memorial Park