K-12 Schooling Issues Weigh Heavily On U.S. Service Members

The Military Times recently conducted a survey of its active duty and retired military readers concerning their views on the K-12 education of their children and how it impacted their military careers. And while the findings reinforced many of the things I’ve heard anecdotally over the years, they were – unfortunately – not altogether unexpected.

We know that military-connected students see the inside of far more classrooms than their civilian peers. And for many of those military students, that can mean an inconsistent education across states.

Recognizing this, Military Times asked if moving between states as part of military service added challenges to the education of the respondent’s children. Seventy percent of the respondents answered yes. While I am personally astonished the number is not higher, it reflects what military spouses – including members of Military Families for High Standards – have been saying about the challenges military families face in moving from one state to another.

Responses to this question also speak to the need for states to fully implement the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. The Compact is designed to resolve common education transition issues, such as graduation requirements and exclusion from extracurricular activities. While all 50 states have adopted the Compact, few have truly integrated it into their support systems.

Next, the survey asked if dissatisfaction with the K-12 education of the respondent’s children was a significant factor, or was expected to be, in deciding whether to continue military service. Almost 60 percent – 58 percent to be exact – answered yes.

At first, I was amazed that this number was so high. Then I got to thinking. And once I pondered it for a few minutes, I understood why so many parents answered yes.

Given how frequently military families move, we get to experience some of the best (and unfortunately, worst) schools America has to offer. Given the law of averages, every military family is bound to be posted to at least one base serviced by poor schools. Some military families simply tire of playing “Russian roulette” with their children’s education and decide that civilian life provides more educational stability.

The final question on the survey asked whether the respondent declined (or would decline) a career-advancing job at a different installation to remain at a current military facility because of a high-performing school. Forty percent of the respondents answered yes.

Given the answers to the previous question, I was less surprised by the “why,” but still surprised that the number was so high.

Inconsistent educational experiences create a big readiness problem for the military leadership. This survey further underscores the fact that service members take the education of their children very seriously – a fact that policymakers cannot and should not ignore.

And we know through anecdotal evidence that the service members that this most impacts are the service members with school-aged children who are the backbone of our Armed Forces, many of whom are enlisted and have less flexibility in their choices for housing and education. Jim Cowen of the Collaborative for Student Success wrote an excellent op-ed on this topic that appeared in the Washington Post. I urge you to read it.

In reviewing the data, the Military Times survey confirmed many of the things we have been saying for the past year. It’s always good to have the data on your side.

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