Connecticut doesn't view the military as a path to college. Should it?

Each year, the state evaluates the performance of school districts and individual schools across Connecticut, including the number of students who enroll in college out of high school. But the assessment doesn't take into account students who join the military and go to college later on.

Michael Graner, superintendent of Groton Public Schools, which has a large contingent of students from military families who often chose to serve themselves, is spearheading an effort to change that.

Graner has asked the state Department of Education, which administers the assessment formally known as the Next Generation Accountability System, to include military service as part of "post-secondary entrance," one of the 12 criteria schools are evaluated on.

Usually between 12 and 24 students graduating from high school in Groton go on to serve in the military each year. While some of them attend one of the military service academies, which don't charge tuition, the vast majority enlist. Graner said many of the students choose to join the military as a way to pay for college.

"It's clearly a pathway to post-secondary education," Graner said.

Military recruiters often tout the educational benefits earned by serving. Graner, a retired Coast Guard captain, said he took advantage of the G.I. bill, which he called "one of greatest pieces of legislation in U.S. history," to pay for college. He said he also went to various training schools within the Coast Guard.

Graner is a member of the local Military Superintendents Liaison Committee, which meets monthly to discuss educational issues affecting military families. The group also backs the change.

"If you're assessing high schools solely off of the college admission rate right out of high school, that's one-dimensional thinking, and overlooks an awful lot of successful students who've chosen a different path," said Bob Ross, executive director of the state's Office of Military Affairs and a member of the committee.

Peter Yazbak, a spokesman with the state education department, said while the department "believes strongly in the benefits to students of acknowledging military entrance as an outcome in the Next Generation Accountability System," the challenge is tracking how many high school graduates go on to serve in the military.

The department has a partnership with the National Student Clearinghouse to collect data on the number of high school graduates who enroll in college and would welcome a similar arrangement with the military, Yazbak said. It also is working with officials at the Naval Submarine Base to find a reliable and consistent way to track this data.

"We remain hopeful that a solution can be reached and are committed to continued efforts to recognize military entrance as a successful outcome in the Next Generation System," Yazbak said.

The issue has garnered the attention of senior Navy leadership, who are exploring how other states approach military service in school evaluations, said Chris Zendan, spokesman for the sub base.

"Not including military service as part of college and career readiness inadvertently suggests that military service is not a viable, demanding post-secondary career plan," Zendan said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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