A Brief History of the Military Student Identifier

Christi Ham
May 3, 2018 · 3 min read

A few months ago, I wrote a piece for HuffPost titled “The Military Student Identifier (MSI) May be a Game Changer for Helping Military Connected Children.” In the article, I argued that “the MSI holds great promise. If states implement it correctly and utilize the information in provides, then it will be key to helping us achieve our mission of lessening the burdens on military-connected children.”

That’s certainly a lot to expect from a new tool.

But as I’ve come to find out, most Americans, even “those in the know,” know little about the MSI or how it came about. So, as we finish out the first school year where states have been required to track military-connected students, I thought it was time for a little background on a provision that took decades to come to fruition.

It turns out the concept of tracking the progress of certain groups of students goes all the way back to 1965 and the Johnson administration.

That year, Congress passed the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act. As part of the law, students were classified into various demographic “subgroups,” such as male/female, African-American or Hispanic. However, as The 74 points out, military service was not viewed as one of the subgroups at the time and, as such, the information on these students was not collected.

However, as time moved on, more and more people began to think it would be beneficial to treat military-connected students as a group with specific needs that were not being addressed. Momentum picked up earlier this decade.

The first big step was the development of the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children in 2008. Developed by the Department of Defense and the Council on State Governments, the Compact, which has now been signed by all 50 states, focused on transition issues facing military families, including enrollment, placement, attendance, eligibility and graduation.

In 2008, the Defense and Education Department also signed a joint memorandum of understanding in which they agreed to work together on five areas of key importance to military-dependent students. This was also the year where the Defense Department assigned a liaison officer to work at the Department of Education on issues of mutual concern.

The momentum continued in 2011 when the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded in a report:

Further, [the Defense Department, Department of] Education, states and other parties lack appropriate data to monitor the progress of military dependent and the effectiveness of the schools and programs serving them. Currently, school districts and states are not required to collect academic achievement data for military dependent students, as they are for other groups of students, including economically disadvantaged student and students with disabilities. Without these data, stakeholders lack critical information that could help them better understand the specific needs of these students and their educational outcomes over time.

The GAO recommended the two agencies “determine whether to require school districts to identify military dependent students as a distinct subgroup for reporting on the academic outcomes, such as test scores and high school graduation rates.” It also suggested that the department determine whether they needed legislative authority from Congress to implement these recommendations.

That approval came in 2015 when Congress passed the 400-plaus page Every Student Succeeds Act. Thanks to the efforts of Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray and Reps. John Kline and Bobby Scott, the MSI became the law of the land.

But it was not just their efforts alone. Groups such as the Military Child Education Coalition, National Association of Federally Impacted Schools and the National Military Family Association played a key role in getting the Military Student Identifier passed and deserve significant credit for their work.

As Mary Keller of the Military Child Education Coalition put it, “The identifier will provide data to inform both educators and policymakers, enabling them to adjust programs, direct resources and adopt strategies that support these students and military families.”

It’s the least we can do to better the education of 1.2 million students across the country.

Christi Ham

Written by

Christi Ham is the chairwoman of http://MilitaryFamiliesforHighStandards.org. She is a lifelong educator and the wife of retired four-star General Carter Ham.

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