As another state debates whether to withdraw from the controversial Common Core multi-state education standards, input is coming from a surprising source: the military.
In North Carolina, where a bill potentially pulling the state out of Common Core is being hashed out between the state house and senate, a group called Mission: Readiness deployed several retired generals to make the case that Common Core isn’t merely sound educational policy, but also vital to the nation’s defense interests.
While serving military officers are generally expected to avoid politics, retired generals have no such limitations, and several were in Raleigh Thursday for a press conference urging the state to stay the course. The standards, they said, provided high standards as well as accountability and consistency for the state’s students, teachers, and parents.
One of the generals speaking was Lt. General Marvin Covault, a former chief of staff for NATO forces in Southern Europe who now lives in North Carolina. The standards, he said, would be invaluable for ensuring the U.S. military has the largest possible pool of qualified recruits.
“The education that this nation is providing to its youth is, in my opinion, a national disgrace,” Covault told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The military has a vested interest in this, because we need to have a continuous pool of talented young people to fill the ranks.”
Among America’s young adults, Covault argued, as many as 75 percent are unsuitable for federal service, whether due to criminal records, lack of personal fitness, or the failure to graduate high school.
Even among high school graduates, however, Covault noted that 20 percent are unable to pass the Army’s entrance exam.
“And I’m telling you, that’s not a very difficult exam,” Covault said.
By implementing tougher standards that are uniform across the country, Covault said Common Core would help ensure better human capital for America’s armed forces. He likened the possible improvements to education with similar improvement the Army made in the 1970s.
“[In the 70s,] there was a period where the U.S. Army was about as bad as it could get,” Covault said. Part of what turned the tide, he said, was creating rigorous common standards that all soldiers of a particular rank were expected to live up to.
Covault says that opposition to Common Core based on fears of federal intervention in education are totally misguided, and bolstered his claim by expressing his own strong distaste for large federal endeavors. The federal government, he said, has “zero track record” of effectively running anything at a large scale.
“If you track the decline of education in this country over the last 3-4 decades, you can track that with the rise and size of the institution of the Department of Education at the federal level,” Covault said. One virtue of Common Core, he said, is that it specifically did not begin with the Department of Education.
“It didn’t come from the federal government, and that’s a big big plus,” he said. “None of this other garbage that has come out of the Department of Education every four years has worked.” Common Core, however, began as a shared effort by different state governors who were convinced that repeated federal efforts weren’t getting the job done of ensuring high educational standards, Covault said. If people believe it was dictated by the federal government, he added, it’s likely as assumption based on what has driven educational change in the past.
Covault also emphasized that Common Core did not dictate how teachers ought to teach.
“That’s a common misconception, that it’s gonna tell teachers how to suck eggs,” he said. Actually, however, he said the key decisions about how to teach material remained at the local level.
“Innovation has not and never will come down from above. Innovation bubble up from below,” he said.
Mission: Readiness is a non-partisan group of over 400 retired generals and admirals that promotes various investments in America’s youth with the stated goal of improving America’s military preparedness. The group is one of five sub-groups within the umbrella organization Council for a Strong America.