The professionalism of our nation’s military is something this country should be proud of. We admire the men and women who serve and appreciate the sacrifices they make for our freedom. Our military is the finest on the planet, and when people see our troops, they know they are safe and protected.
Supporting so many of our soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors are their families whose sacrifices take place behind the scenes. For spouse and kids, deployments never get easy but there’s much more to military life than supporting the active-duty family member. Like families everywhere, those connected to the military have to make choices about where to shop, where to volunteer, where to attend church, and where to send the children for their education. Unlike non-military connected families, though, choices about schools happen a lot more frequently.
There are more than 1 million military-connected students and on average these kids will move nine to six times during their academic career. We owe them a better educational experience than what they’re currently receiving. April is recognized as Month of the Military Child. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently visited a Department of Defense school at Fort Bragg, N.C., and talked about the academic challenges students face. She made clear her commitment to ensuring that all students have access to a high-quality education, regardless of whether they spend all four years at one high school or attend several high schools through a parent’s deployments.
The Military Times recently surveyed current and former military personnel and found that fully one-third of respondents said that “dissatisfaction with a child’s education was or is ‘a significant factor’ in deciding whether or not to continue military service.” Forty percent said they have turned down or would turn down a “career-advancing job” if it meant moving somewhere with lower performing schools than their current location. That can have a real impact on military readiness when the men and women in our military decline assignments because they lack confidence in where their child would attend school.
The most overwhelming number from the survey is that 70 percent of respondents agreed that, “moving between states as part of your military service adds challenges to your children’s education.” It’s not rare for a military child to begin an academic year at one school and finish at another. The two schools in that one year could have widely different benchmarks for what students are expected to know at each grade level. Usually, military kids find themselves either ahead of or behind their new peers, neither of which are good places to be. Too far behind, and they require tutoring and special study sessions; too far ahead, and bored students are at risk for dropping out or even regressing if a new school can’t offer them a challenging curriculum.
In January, the Lexington Institute released a report that found that the underlying reasons for the lower quality education for military kids include limited support for students and less effective state- and school-district policies. Missouri, which has a large military population was one of the states, included in the analysis. A school district superintendent from there is quoted in the report as saying, “We don’t get three to five years in our district to make change. Sometimes we get three to five months. That’s why we concentrate on accurately assessing where students are in their understanding of learning standards when they arrive and quickly intervening to promote their growth toward proficiency.”
Many states adopted higher academic standards in 2010, which marked the first time that there were common benchmarks across state lines. For military students, knowing that they would transition into a new school at the same level as their classmates was a new and tremendous experience. Although there are critics of these standards, we cannot back down from what they offer military-connected students: a steady, comparable, high-quality education no matter where they live and regardless of how long they attend a school. Anything less is an insult to the sacrifices they make for our nation.
Jan Brewer is the former Governor of Arizona