In today’s increasingly mobile society, it’s not unusual for a family member to be required to move two or three times during a career. When that happens, it creates numerous challenges for any children in the family. They have to make new friends, adapt to a new school and, perhaps most challenging, quickly figure out where they stand in the school’s curriculum.
Now, if the parent is a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, that challenge is multiplied by a factor of two or three. The typical military child will move six to nine times during a 13-year K-12 career. This makes the challenges more frequent and daunting.
To assist the 1 million children of military families who attend public schools in the United States, we need to take steps that ensure these students have the same opportunity to achieve as their non-military counterparts.
As a military spouse and educator, I’ve seen this problem up close and personally.
A nomadic lifestyle is a fact of life in the military. During my husband’s 38-year period of service in the U.S. Army, we moved 26 times. In the middle of this, I raised two children at bases across the United States and overseas.
During this time, my first choice for my kids when in the United States was to put them in a public school. But after doing my homework, I found that the schools around some U.S. military bases were not always up to my family’s standards. As a result, we searched for alternatives. In our case, we looked to the region’s Catholic schools.
In some cases, even the alternatives aren’t good enough for some. I know of several cases where a field grade officer either resigned his position or refused an assignment over the quality of schools near a specific base.
Our kids faced one other challenge as we moved. Sometimes, because the courses didn’t match up, they found they were ahead of their new friends, education-wise. They could coast and weren’t really learning. At other times, they found themselves behind. This required them to work extra hard just to catch up to their peers.
Military families have more than enough to worry about — without being concerned whether the standards at their new public schools vary from the last community and state where they were posted.
As we put a cap on the Month of the Military Child, there are two solutions out there that deserve support.
The first is continued support for high, consistent standards and specifically, the Common Core State Standards.
Developed by governors and state education chiefs and voluntarily adopted by 43 states, Common Core State Standards are academic benchmarks that a student must master at each grade level to be on track to graduate from high school ready for college or a career.
The standards have also been adopted by the Department of Defense’s Education Activity, which manages K-12 education standards at 171 DoD schools in the United States and around the world.
These Common Core standards are simply academic benchmarks that encourage teachers and school districts to continue to design their own curricula. They deserve our continued support.
Second, we need to continue to push our schools to improve.
When Gen. Ray Odierno was Army chief of staff, he said that the performance of schools near a base was a top concern and would be an important consideration in any future installation changes or base realignments.
What this means is that bases surrounded by poor schools could be on the chopping block when the Army makes its next round of base closings. Given the importance of bases to local economies, the threat of closure is a powerful incentive to improve schools.
This plan needs to be adopted not just by the current Army leadership but that of the entire U.S. military.
Supporting these two priorities are why groups such as Military Families for High Standards were created.
Created for military families by military families, our organization looks to push solutions that will ensure our military families have access to the best education possible.
Given the challenges military children face, it is the least we can do.