High, shared standards: That’s how we keep our students in military families from losing ground

At schools near military bases, experienced teachers will be able to pick out the truly new faces in classrooms and at parent-teacher conferences. These will be children and parents of military families who have transferred into the community at the request of Uncle Sam. 

Military families present a special challenge for teachers and the education system in general. As a result of the career choice of one or both of their parents, military-connected children move often.  Frequent school changes can put them at risk to fall through the cracks of our education system.

The average military-connected child will move an average of six to nine times between kindergarten and graduating high school – two to three times more frequently than their non-military connected peers. These military-connected children are at the mercy of the different educational standards put in place by state and local school boards. 

When the child moves, they can find themselves either ahead of or behind their peers in their new school. This can lead to the need for extra classes to catch up. Or it means boredom as the student repeats material he or she has already learned.

As part of a husband and wife team who both served in the Army, I know the angst parents face. Before retiring, we moved 13 times in 27 years and six times with our two daughters.  

We were especially nervous when moving our daughters from Germany to northern Virginia. We feared they would be substantially behind their new classmates because the rumors were that U.S. government-run schools in Germany weren’t up to par with the northern Virginia schools. 

Fortunately, our fears were unfounded, but we were the exception to the rule. I know of other military families that weren’t so lucky. Their children suffered because of the standards differed from state to state and school district to school district.

That’s one reason why most military families support high, consistent educational standards that prepare students for college and careers.

In many ways, this puts them in the mainstream with the rest of America. The latest Education Next poll found fully two-thirds of Americans supported college-and-career-ready standards that are consistent from state to state and school district to school district. Other polls show similar results.

In other ways, these standards are a survival mechanism for their children. High, consistent standards, supported by meaningful testing to gauge where students are academically, are the only way for parents to be sure that their child is getting the best education possible, no matter where the Pentagon sends them or how often they move.

High, consistent standards allow parents to compare school districts when the Pentagon gives them a choice on future assignments. Without consistent standards, there is no way to compare school districts around an Army base in California versus one in Virginia or Missouri. With them, military families – as well as non-military ones – will be able to make the decision that’s best for their children.

High, consistent standards won’t solve all the issues that military families face. However, they will go a long way in making sure education isn’t one of them.

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Diane Gawkins

Diane Gawkins

Diane Gawkins, a nurse and member of Military Families for High Standards, is a former major in the Army and the parent of two adult daughters who attended schools in Texas, Kansas, Germany, Massachusetts, and Virginia. Diane believes that military children are our future leaders and that we should be striving to make transitions easier for them as they move from school to school.

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