Children in military families often don’t have good school experiences. That’s because they are one of the country’s most transient populations. The average student from a military family will attend schools in six to nine different school systems from kindergarten to their senior year. These kids often deal with emotional issues connected to their parents’ deployments and stress from leaving old friends behind. Bureaucratic red tape in some districts prevents graduation, and a slow transfer of records also creates problems.
The Department of Education states that more than 1.2 million students in the United States are children of service men and women. More than 80 percent of them attend public schools. But now various educational programs are trying to assist students who may start the school year in one place and end up in another.
For example, in West Virginia, about 7,200 children have a family member in the military. Earlier this month, a new website launched to assist military students. Called Common Ground, the program is a mentoring partnership between education and military leaders. The website links to opportunities for students and resources for families.
“[Our program] establishes some structures to make it easier for our military families as they move in and out of state so that we support their children in our schools,” State School Superintendent Jorea Marple told West Virginia media at the program’s launch.
Such programs are cropping up throughout the country, and more states are adopting the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, which creates guidelines to allow for uniformity across state and local lines for military children who transfer. The Department of Defense website states that 40 states are members of the compact. That covers about 93 percent of military children.
Like West Virginia, Oklahoma is looking for ways to make school a more steady experience for military families.
More than 17,000 K-12 students live in Oklahoma, which has four major military bases or installations. Some experts think that school choice would be more beneficial to such students and that the state should adopt an Empowerment Scholarship Account measure, which would allow eligible parents to withdraw their children from public schools and receive their per-pupil funds for deposit into an education account. Critics argue such a plan could cost districts money. But proponents see it differently.
“Any notion that military choice would drain resources from public schools is bogus,” Robert Holland and Don Soifer of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, VA, wrote in a column. “By relieving public schools of the cost of teaching the departing military students while leaving part of their per-pupil appropriation in place, an ESA actually would produce a small windfall for public coffers.”
Online education seems to be the quickest and easiest way to help transient students. Tutor.com offers free tutoring for military families. Students receive sessions in an “online classroom.” Students and tutors use an instant messenger chat tool and a shared whiteboard. The American Association of School Administrators states that the most frequent tutoring is connected to simple homework completion, which can prevent student from falling behind in class.
A study from Virginia, which leads the nation with nearly 80,000 military students, shows that educators have placed a priority on this segment of the school’s population. But even in a state with hyper-awareness of the problems, more support needs to be given in some areas such as math and science classes and cultural awareness.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has often addressed the struggles of the military student. In April, in honor of “Month of the Military Child,” Duncan sent a letter to school superintendents throughout the country.
“We want all military-connected school children to have an equal and fair opportunity for academic success,” he wrote.
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Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist whose work frequently appears in The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. She is the author of two books. @SuziParker | TakePart.com