Kicking Off Month of the Military Child

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos marked the beginning of April – Month of the Military Child – by visiting a Department of Defense School at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. In her comments there, she recognized the challenges faced by military-connected students as they transition to a new school and discussed the importance of making sure that military families have access to high-quality education offerings no matter where they are stationed.

DeVos’ comments highlight an important issue for military-connected students, and one that we’ve discussed frequently. Military-connected students see the insides of far more schools than their civilian peers – which means they often experience inconsistent standards from school to school.

On average, military families move between six to nine times throughout their child’s K-12 career, and are often faced with the realities of having to catch their students up to grade level in a new state, or watch them struggle to sit through material they’ve already learned.

For military families, the inconsistency of standards for early education and K-12 means that the parents have to fill the education void, adding a large dose of stress on top of an already stressful transition. High, comparable standards provide military-connect students with consistency from location to location, and the foundation for an education that serves them as well as their families have served our nation.

The 1.1 million children of active duty military personnel in our country deserve high, consistent standards.

The Lexington Institute agrees. In a report released in January, they found that the underlying reasons for the lower quality of educational experience for military-connected students are fairly consistent. Among them, limited support for students and less effective state and school-district policies.

The report quotes Dr. Brian Henry, superintendent of a Missouri school district as saying, “We don’t get three to five years in our district to make change. Sometimes we get three to five months. That’s why we concentrate on accurately assessing where students are in their understanding of learning standards when they arrive and quickly intervening to promote their growth toward proficiency.”

A recent survey of current and former military personnel conducted by Military Times also highlighted this important issue. More than one-third of respondents, 35 percent, said dissatisfaction with a child’s education was or is “a significant factor” in deciding whether to continue military service; 40 percent said they either have declined or would decline a career-advancing job at a different military installation to remain at their current military facility “because of high performing schools.” When asked, “Did moving between states as part of your military service add challenges to your children’s education,” 70 percent answered yes.

This is a serious challenge, but one with a solution: rigorous academic standards that are consistent from state to state so there’s no question that when a student transfers, he or she will be at the same place academically as their peers. Being a kid is tough enough, but imagine being a kid in a new school and needing tutoring because you’re behind that school’s grade-level or being bored because you’re ahead of your new classmates.

As Military Families for High Standards Chairwoman and military spouse Christi Ham noted this week, “Given how frequently military families move, we get to experience some of the best (and unfortunately, worst) schools America has to offer.”

Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to the men and women who serve in our military. We can honor that debt by making sure their children have access to a high-quality education no matter where in the United States their family is stationed.

We will be highlighting Month of the Military Child throughout April. Check back to see what we’re talking about – or contact us at militaryfamilies@forstudentsuccess.org!