Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Mike D. Stevens speaks with students at the Bahrain Department of Defense Education Activity school during a visit to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Blake Midnight/Released)
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Mike D. Stevens speaks with students at the Bahrain Department of Defense Education Activity school during a visit to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Blake Midnight/Released)
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Mike D. Stevens speaks with students at the Bahrain Department of Defense Education Activity school. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Blake Midnight/Released)

A remarkable education system has been created to benefit Military-Connected Children, enabling them to perform academically as well as or better than children whose families are not in the military, despite the unique challenges they face, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

In Support & Defend: The K-12 Education of Military-Connected Children, education analyst and retired career Air Force officer Bruce Wykes presents an in-depth analysis of how the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) provides high-quality education to more than 84,000 eligible Military-Connected Children in more than 190 schools around the world and scores above the national averages on nearly all standardized assessments. He also examines efforts to expand that success to Military-Connected Children attending non-DoDEA schools.

“Given the central role that the United States military serves in defending our democracy and way of life,” said Jamie Gass, director of Pioneer Institute’s Center for School Reform, “it’s vital that policy making related to Military-Connected Children be based upon solid research. For their many sacrifices, they deserve nothing less than the best.”

The paper features a preface from retired United States Army Lieutenant General Rick Lynch, a 34-year veteran and the author of the book Adapt or Die: Leadership Principles from an American General. “Pioneer Institute’s research paper on educating Military-Connected Children is both timely and pertinent,” writes Lieutenant General Lynch, “It is extremely well documented and is an exhaustive examination that deserves careful consideration.”

Despite the clear successes of Military-Connected Children, some policy analysts claim that Common Core standards may help Military Families. Wykes argues otherwise, saying that available evidence does not support the Common Core given that Military Families tend to have children while in service, but transition from active duty before their children even reach middle or high school.

Demographic data on Military-Connected Children reveals that “41 to 42 percent of active duty Military-Connected Children are preschool and only 16 percent are high school. These numbers are also supported by the Military Child Education Coalition, which reported that in 2012 more than half of the active duty Military-Connected Children were seven years old or younger.” In short, Common Core’s claims to “college and career readiness” are of limited utility to this student population.

Additionally, Common Core is also contrary to the rising trend of homeschooling among Military Families, which may be in part due to concerns over the mismanaged implementation of Common Core. Typically, homeschooling has been far more common among Military Families than their civilian counterparts. It’s also noteworthy that 20 percent of active military personnel are located in Texas and Virginia, states that did not adopt Common Core.

Instead, other initiatives such as the Interstate Compact on the Education of Military Children, the creation of school liaison officers, support for military homeschooling families, and the use of targeted grants are better suited to assist Military Families and military leaders while addressing the challenges of K-12 education for Military-Connected Children.

The paper uses two case studies to assess the academic performance of Military-Connected Children. One looks at standardized test scores in the Lincoln Public Schools in Massachusetts. Another focuses on the Davis School District, the second largest in Utah, through de-identified, aggregate standardized test results.

While spotlighting the success, Wykes also points out that there is still much we do not know about the academic performance of Military-Connected Children. This unknown information is essential for policy makers at all levels of government and invaluable to education and military leaders, nonprofits dedicated to supporting Military Families and to the Military Families themselves. The recommendations of the paper include:

  • Coding Military-Connected Children as a subgroup within existing systems of assessment and performance. The lack of standardized coding and tracking is the largest hurdle in assessing the academic performance of these children. The paper calls for coding that would identify Military-Connected Children as members of a singular subgroup, similar to how race or gender is coded. Coding that differentiates the military service of the parents in one of the branches, as well as the status of that service, such as active duty or National Guard, would also be useful.
  • Perform longitudinal studies. To overcome the challenges of assessing mobile students over time, longitudinal studies should be conducted. Because of that mobility and the fact that most military children are too young for most standardized testing, longitudinal studies are vital to any detailed picture of the academic performance of Military-Connected Children. The considerable challenges involved in following mobile Military Families can be overcome through modern communications technologies and innovative research projects.
  • Raise awareness of the Interstate Compact on the Education of Military Children. Though the compact is binding on all public schools, it is inconsistently understood and utilized. Some educators and administrators are unaware of their state’s participation in it. The military community, through school liaison officers and “Welcome” programs for new arrivals at a base, as well as via orientations for new leaders, must continue to get the word out.

The 60-page paper also includes a brief history of federal efforts to ensure that children in Military Families receive an adequate education, dating back to 1821 when General Winfield Scott established the earliest official policy regarding the funding and operation of schools on military installations.

Lieutenant General Rick Lynch distinguished himself while commanding at all levels throughout his Army career. Whether directly leading 100 soldiers or more than 65,000, and whether managing all U.S. Army installations or leading “The Surge” in Iraq with only six weeks lead time, Lieutenant General Lynch applied insight born from overcoming adversity and achieved exemplary results. With his exceptional leadership experience, demonstrated skills as a strategist, and his ability to connect with leaders from all walks of life, he is highly regarded as both a speaker and author. His new book, Adapt or Die: Leadership Principles from an American General, provides unprecedented clarity to leaders on how to gain the confidence needed to lead in our ever-changing world.

Author Bruce Wykes is a Ruth and Lovett C. Peters Fellow in Education. He completed a master’s degree in politics and political philosophy in 2014 through the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale College, writing a thesis on the legacy impacts of progressive education theories of the early 20th century. His prior academic career includes a master’s degree in Middle East history through the University of Texas at Austin as well as a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Guam and associate degrees in Educational and Instructional Technology from the Community College of the Air Force and in Christian Studies from Wayland Baptist University. He is a career Air Force officer who completed nearly 23 years of active duty service in 2011.

Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.

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