A Military Solution For Education

If the United States valued education as much as military activities, children in elementary schools would have 45% more spent on their education than is provided now. High schools would see their budgets go up by 71%.
02/13/2017 01:36 pm ET Updated Feb 14, 2018

If the United States valued education as much as military activities, children in elementary schools would have 45% more spent on their education than is provided now. High schools would see their budgets go up by 71%.

American schools currently are not the best in the world. The U.S. Armed Forces, by contrast, are the finest on the globe. A fundamental reason for this difference is the level of funding.

The U.S. Armed Forces spend 37% of the money available to the armed forces of the world's nations. In other words, more than a third of all military spending on the globe supports the American military.

That generous funding enables the U.S Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps to be selective in choosing personnel, to provide high-quality training, and to use the latest technology. Our military can be the best in the world because they have the financial means to do so.

American elementary and secondary education receives funding that is, at most, about 23% of total spending in the world. This estimate is almost certainly too high because data on education spending is available from fewer countries--115, than is data on military funding--137 countries. A larger pool of nations would reduce the percentage spent for education by the U.S.

Matthew Frizzell, an education researcher, did the analysis which reached these conclusions. That research was undertaken for this article.

What if the United States were to adopt the same approach for education as it does for the military? What if education was supported at the same financial level as our military?

President Trump proposes the opposite. He says that schools are "flush with cash," and that the military must receive increased funding. He would thereby further increase the disparity in spending. The country would place even greater value on the military and lesser value on education.

If children's learning were to receive "the military solution," namely funding equal to more than a third of what the world's nations spend on education, American schools could improve enough to be among the world's best institutions. Even with that big increase in the U.S., however, several other nations would still spend more on students than we would; but what a difference those extra funds could make in our country.

Educators would have the means to be very selective about who becomes a teacher, about how they are trained, and about keeping them in the classroom with decent pay and good working conditions. It would also provide funding for extra services for students who are not prepared for school or who come to school after speaking another language at home during their earliest years.

Critics say that money has not solved the problems of American education. They point out that the U.S. is already among the highest spenders on education among all nations. They also show that American student test scores are generally in the middle or in the top third but not at the very highest levels among the world's nations.

The assertion about greater funding being ineffective is not accurate as explained in this comprehensive study showing how extra dollars led to increased student performance. But, it is true that our test scores are not the highest among nations, due to the current absence of sufficient funding to provide a quality education for all students.

By comparison, let's look at the record of the U.S. Armed Forces. The military, with much greater funding than that available to education, has performed well, but has not always succeeded. It too has a mixed record.

World War II stands out as the greatest success, and since then our military prowess has often deterred other nations from being aggressive. But, in reviewing the wars and battles we waged, the truth is that we did not win every one.

The Korean War was at best a draw. The Vietnam War was a loss. The rescue attempt of embassy employees in Iran was a failure. The Iraqi and Afghanistan wars cannot be called victories. The Gulf War for Kuwait was a short-term victory until Iraq was invaded. The tragedy of 9-11 is a stain on our defense and intelligence agencies.

The point is that despite high funding making them the best, the U.S. Armed Forces have not been uniformly successful. Neither have the schools with much smaller budgets.

When the military faces problems, such as fighting terrorism, Congress gives them more money for the job. When the schools do not show high student test scores, they are lectured on doing better with what they have.

It is obvious that we care more about the military than we do about our youths' education. In government, budgets show the real priorities. Our priority is far and away the military. Despite all the political rhetoric, education is a middling concern of our country.

This should not be an issue of either funding the military or funding education. Since the great majority of personnel in the armed services are educated in public schools, the better educated they become, the stronger the military will be.

So, let's even the playing field and give the schools the military solution. Let's bring this home to the politicians and encourage a shift of thinking on the part of state and national elected officials. At the beginning of meetings between educators and politicians, including testimony to state legislatures and the Congress, this should be the opening statement.

"We applaud the U.S. Armed Forces which are the finest in the world since they are supported by funding equal to one-third of all military spending on the globe. We ask that the schools be supported by the same proportion of funding so that we too can be the best in the world."