Recognizing the Progress We’ve Made over the Past Two Years
As we celebrate the Month of the Military Child, I am reminded of the numerous stories I have heard about the challenges the sons and daughters of our armed forces face because of one (or both) of their parent’s service. Often these stories revolve around the family having to move so often. Many are heart-breaking.
Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that military children move, and they move a lot. Given the average time on station is somewhere between 18 months and two years, that means a military-connected child can expect to attend six to nine schools between starting kindergarten and graduating high school.
As a result of these moves, military-connected students face a variety of daunting challenges. Whether it is constantly having to make new friends, switching schools in the middle of the semester or being forced to sit through a semester of material they have already mastered, they are required to develop a thick skin.
Fortunately, military-connected children are resilient enough to overcome these challenges. In fact, it’s one of the reasons we celebrate them this month and, for many of us, all year long.
But there are several factors over which they have no control.
One is when they move. When the orders come from headquarters that it is time to move, families have to move. In the past, families have faced two alternatives. One is to pick up and move when Uncle Sam gives the order — no matter when in the school year it may be. The other is for the military member to make the move and leave the rest of the family behind until the end of the semester. In short, neither alternative is a good one for the student.
Another challenge are the academic standards. In the past, states haven’t been in agreement about what students should learn when. Fortunately, many states have adopted high standards and are working to implement them. Support for high standards has been an issue that many military spouses can get behind — since they see firsthand how their children have found themselves either ahead of or behind their new classmates after a move. Continued support for high standards is imperative to ensuring the educational success of military-connected students.
Fortunately, there has been movement to make some of these challenges less burdensome.
First, the military has recognized the trouble that frequent moves — for all members of the armed forces, not just those with families — have on morale and retention. As a result, the Pentagon recently began a policy offering service members longer times on station in return for longer tours of duty. There is a tradeoff here of course, but for a service member with a family, this means a little more stability with fewer moves.
Second, the Pentagon, led by the Army, is being more understanding in scheduling moves. Within reason, attempts are being made to ensure that when a family has to move, it is either at the end of the semester or, even better, over the summer when the disruption to the child’s education is less. By reducing the disruption during the school year, it allows more families to stay together.
Finally, we have the introduction of the Military Student Identifier. Created as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act — the nation’s federal education law — the Identifier is designed to help states and districts understand how military-connected students are performing academically. The intention is that, once implemented, the Military Student Identifier will provide information to guide states and districts as they work to better direct resources toward ensuring students’ academic success.
In this the Month of the Military Child, much attention will be paid to the amount of work that still needs to be done to assist military-connected children. But it is also important to recognize the progress we’ve made in removing some of the hurdles these children face.
Being the son or daughter of a member of the armed forces will never be simple. But anything we can do to make their lives a little easier is worth it.
Christi Ham is the chairwomen on Military Families for High Standards.