The Quality Education Imperative for Military Children
Military life is a nomadic one. Every few years the order comes to move to a new duty station. While it can be challenging for adults, the test for military-connected children can be even worse.
The average military-connected child moves six to nine times between the time he or she starts kindergarten and the time he or she graduates high school.
That is a new school every 18 months to two years. It is not a situation that leads to a consistent educational foundation.
As an Air Force senior non-commissioned officer, my husband, also a senior non-commissioned officer, and I moved 12 times around the world while raising our four children. Our youngest son went to four different high schools in four years.
To handle the constant change, our family had our coping techniques. Besides doing our due diligence, we relied on the resources of the Air Force’s Airmen and Family Readiness Centers. We looked at issues such as the quality of the neighborhood and the level of excellence of the schools.
When it came time for the move, we gave our children a backpack. Each of the children could put their favorite toys and some snacks into the backpack. It was our way of making them feel comfortable as military requirements sent them from the United States to Europe and Asia and back again.
While these techniques helped, three recently enacted changes will help military families even more.
First, the Pentagon has adopted its College and Career Ready (CCR) standards for the schools it operates for military-connected children here in the United States and around the world. The CCR standards, which are now being taught for their second year, are based on the same education standards that the vast majority of American states have adopted.
This is an obvious improvement for the one million military-connected children, most of whom attend public schools when they are stateside. Based on our experience, our children faced their biggest challenges going from Pentagon-run schools to public schools in America and vice versa.
By aligning the CCR standards with the high, consistent standards used in most of the states, the Pentagon is working to ensure that we can avoid the problem of military-connected students either be far behind or far ahead of their classmates when they transfer into a new school.
Next, we have the new military student identifier, created as part of last year’s education bill passed; the identifier will allow states to collect and better understand a variety of information about military-connected students as a group. Some of the categories of information include: where students go to school, how they perform, whether they graduate, and, assuming they do, what they do after high school (college or military versus workforce).
Knowing this will help schools make changes that will benefit students. It will ensure support is going to the areas that need it most.
Finally, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced important policy changes earlier this year that will allow service members to remain at a duty station longer in exchange for extended service in the military.
The policy, part of the Pentagon’s “Force of the Future,” was in response to complaints about the military’s frequent station changes and the impact they have on families. By increasing time on station, we reduce the number of times a military-connected student has to change schools – and would address retention issues caused by service members opting to leave the Armed Forces because of poor education options at their next station.
None of these programs will solve the overarching challenge that military parents face. But they do represent some of the best efforts to lessen the impact that our career choice has our children’s education.
And that’s a step in the right direction toward making certain that military-connected children have access to a quality education.
A former Air Force senior noncommissioned officer, Johnson is a member of Military Families for High Standards, which works to ensure that military-connected children have access to quality education, wherever their parents serve. She lives in Hampton, Va.