By Christi Ham
When President Trump gave his State of the Union speech, one of the topics that was conspicuously, but not surprisingly, absent, was education.
But just because the issue is not at the top of the president’s agenda does not mean it should be an unimportant one for policymakers or Americans as a whole. It isn’t. For those of us who are concerned about the state of our military, education policy is extremely important.
One reason this is important is the effect it has on personnel. There are 1.2 million military-connected students across the country - the sons and daughters of our armed forces.
Military-connected students have particular needs because they are so transient. On average, a military child moves every 18 months to two years.
As a result, school districts have challenges integrating these students into the classroom and the larger school community.
For this subset of students, the state of the union is decidedly mixed. As with in all things in life, there are good things, strengths and successes contrasted by weaknesses, frustrations and continuing challenges.
One of the highlights is the energy behind implementing the Every Student Succeed Act, the successor to the No Child Left Behind Act that was passed in 2015. As required by law, states are working hard to get their state plans approved, and the Department of Education is forcing all to create offerings that are valuable, standardized and measurable.
Of particular interest in ESSA for families of military-connected children is the Military Student Identifier. The MSI is a long-requested tool that requires states to collect critical data and provide states with clear pictures of where military-connected students are enrolled. The promise is that with this information states will then direct resources to these communities in order to ensure that the students are fully integrated into their new school communities.
Yet, it is not clear how this valuable data will be used once collected. Questions of organization of reports and recognition of application of the data results in real programing remain unknowns. We simply don’t know whether systems will do what they’ve promised.
A second reason education policy is important deals with graduation rates and recruitment.
You need a high school diploma, or its equivalent, to join the armed forces. So, the recent uptick in students getting high school diplomas should be applauded.
But there are legitimate concerns those diplomas don’t mean as much as they once did.
One barometer of the worth of a diploma is whether a high school graduate who aspires to be part of the military can pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) that is required for enlistment. The ASVAB tests general knowledge and helps direct recruits to specific career paths in the military, such as logistics or military intelligence.
But, according to a report from the Education Trust, 20 percent of Army recruits - all with high school diplomas or the equivalent - couldn’t pass the Army’s version of the ASVAB. As a result, they were prohibited from serving in the Army.
Let that sink in. One in five military recruits didn’t score high enough to serve in the Army.
This is a disturbing statistic that calls into question the value of today’s high school diplomas, not just for military service but for all post-high school career tracks.
In short, much is going on in education policy circles that seems encouraging. Unfortunately, scratch beneath the surface and there are plenty of questions that need to be answered.
Perhaps education will merit a little more attention in President Trump’s second year in office.
Christi Ham is chairwoman of Military Families for High Standards. She wrote this opinion piece for InsideSources.com.