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A Call to Educational Arms

• Samantha Tankersley

On November 11, we honor the generations of men and women who have responded to the call to serve in America’s armed forces and protect the rights and values fundamental to our nation.

This group includes our loved ones — aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and lifelong friends. Although separated by decades, they enlisted to provide a better life for themselves and their families. With the knowledge that access to a quality education is one key to a successful future, Congress passed the G.I. Bill in 1944 to provide veterans the opportunity to resume their education after discharge.

It is clear that Americans take considerable pride in our access to education, and the military reflects this value. However, an increasing number of Americans are finding it impossible to join the ranks of the nation’s finest.

Nearly 75 percent of Americans are unable to join the military due to barriers such as fitness level, criminal history and education. Almost one in four individuals seeking to enlist in the Army are unable to join due to low scores on the military’s basic exam for math, literacy and problem-solving.

It is truly tragic that thousands of young men and women from this generation who want to join the armed forces are denied because they lack sufficient reading and math skills.

This is more than a limitation for our students; it is a crisis for our nation’s security.

The Council on Foreign Relations published a report in 2012 titled “US Education Reform and National Security.” The report, chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former NYC Chancellor of Education Joel Klein, revealed a distinct relationship between education and national security. The report described the threat posed by America’s lack of educational preparedness; it impacts our nation’s economic growth, global competitiveness and physical safety. With a growing number of Americans unable to serve in the armed forces, the nation our veterans have fought bravely to protect is at risk.

The report also discussed the achievement gap of minorities within the armed forces. African-American applicants are twice as likely to test ineligible on the Armed Services Vocational battery as white applicants. Eighty-six percent of African-American applicants and 79 percent of Hispanic applicants are also unable to pass the assessment to qualify for the U.S. Special Forces.

These racial disparities highlight a devastating achievement gap in education as well as inadequate academic standards in K-12 education.

Many military leaders and organizations, such as Mission Readiness, have spoken out in support of finding K-12 education solutions to address this problem. Suggestions range from higher standards to heightened accountability, and all are centered on student learning. In an Army press release, former USAAC Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, Ret. stated “there is no more important work than preparing our students to succeed in the global economy. Our national security as well as our national economy hinge upon education and our ability to adapt to global changes.”

America’s military has supported education as a platform for success for generations. But if our education system continues to fail students, the opportunities our youth and nation rely upon will continue to decline. This Veterans Day, take time to thank those who have served. And take a moment to learn more about how we can change America’s education system to better serve the needs of our students and our country.

About the author

Samantha Tankersley

Samantha is the Policy Coordinator for the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s new initiative, EdPolicy Leaders Online. Before joining ExcelinEd, Samantha served as an advocacy intern for the Foundation for Florida's Future while simultaneously pursuing her master's in Public Administration from Florida State University. Samantha has also served as a teaching assistant for international schools in England and Switzerland. She received her bachelor's degree in Education from the University of Central Florida in 2012.