For the 1.2 million children connected to active-duty U.S. military personnel, they can expect to change schools two to three times more frequently than their peers during the course of their K-12 education. This creates obstacles for military families confronting inconsistent education standards between states and a limited support system to aid the transition to new schools. While this directly impacts children in military families, it also strikes at overall military readiness as parents in the armed forces make difficult choices about how to provide their families with greater stability—whether that means leaving the military, separating from family, or declining transfers.
The question of how to provide better educational opportunities for military-connected students is the topic of a new report released Tuesday. During a panel discussion hosted at the National Press Club, the study’s authors, Doug Mesecar and Don Soifer of the Lexington Institute, explained that the lack of educational options for these families “often restricts educational opportunities, negatively impacts educational achievement, causes military families to make tough housing choices, inhibits quick assimilation into school communities, and can reduce a family’s satisfaction with a military career.”
The study specifically examined four states: Colorado, Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia, which all have high populations of families connected to different military services.
Among the report’s recommendations is the need for more educational options. For example, Missouri and Virginia do not allow open enrollment in school districts outside where a child resides. This has pushed some families to opt for long commutes or private schooling. The study points to the value of charter schools providing better options for some families and the need for more course offerings that tailor to both advanced and special-needs students. This can be personalized to individual students through increased use of technology, explain the authors.
Comparable state education standards also can also have a profound impact on improving the quality of education. The difficulty military families face when they move from state to state has been a driver of the Common Core State Standards that have been adopted by over 40 states. Common Core and similar benchmarks are recommended as a way to maintain high standards between states. Additionally, the report stresses the need for states to commit to the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. All 50 states have adopted the compact that helps to minimize challenges like different graduation requirements, but some states are falling behind on implementation.
Some of the burden is on military leaders. The study authors argue that military leaders should consider family educational needs when possible before making transfers. The Department of Defense is working to focus more on these challenges, with former Sec. Ashton Carter stating last year: “To give service members and their families greater choice, we are overhauling the way we place personnel, to offer more options and … potentially fewer moves, meaning fewer first days as the new kid in school.” Panelists at the Washington, D.C. forum also stressed the importance of a commanding officer at a military base being engaged in pushing for local education improvements in nearby districts.
“Military families face many challenges while serving their country. The quality of educational options – including the availability of high, consistent standards, and states and districts that are able to support them – shouldn’t be included in that list,” stated Jim Cowen, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success, which sponsored the study.