From the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot
The Administration of President Donald Trump reportedly plans to increase the numbers of the U.S. armed forces by at least 125,000 active-duty service members.
Will Virginia be at the center of this planned growth? One factor that may play a role is whether the state can improve the educational opportunities for military-connected families and their students.
The satisfaction of military-connected families with the educational experiences of their children affects where service members desire to be posted and whether they continue with their military careers.
A new Lexington Institute report examines how the children of active-duty military personnel frequently face shortages of high-quality educational options. That impedes academic achievement and can even reduce a family’s satisfaction with a military career.
The report, “Better Serving Those Who Serve: Improving the Educational Opportunities of Military-Connected Students,” looks at four states, including Virginia, in depth. It also found that inconsistencies in content and achievement standards can significantly affect the education of military-connected children.
The commonwealth has the second-largest population of military personnel of any state, with approximately 122,000 active-duty service members and more than 175,000 dependents. There is a military-connected student in every school division.
Many divisions struggle to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of these students, no matter how many, or few, they serve.
While Virginia has taken the challenges and opportunities of serving these students seriously, it can do much more.
One of the key findings is that a shortage of high-quality educational options for military-connected families and students often negatively affects achievement, causes military families to make tough housing choices, and can reduce a family’s satisfaction with a military career.
This finding is reinforced by a new national survey of military families, conducted by the Collaborative for Student Success and the Military Times, which found that over one-third of respondents said dissatisfaction with a child’s education is a “significant factor” in deciding whether or not to continue military service.
Further, 40 percent said they have declined, or would decline, a career-advancing job at a different installation to remain at their current military facility because of high-performing schools.
Military-connected parents have often welcomed a Virginia-based assignment due to the state’s strong academic standards and student outcomes.
However, this overall positive view misses critical nuances in the performance of school divisions, particularly in Hampton Roads, which has 10 schools whose performance is in the bottom tier of schools statewide. Far fewer military-connected children attend Norfolk Public Schools than are eligible, likely related to the high number of schools that have lost state accreditation.
Virginia does not have an open enrollment law, which can provide flexibility for families connected with a military installation to cross district boundaries to take advantage of other opportunities that better meet their needs.
If living farther away is not an option, military-connected families may be stuck with sub-par options, especially with the state’s extremely weak charter school law. In states such as Maryland, Illinois and Louisiana, charter schools located on military bases offer important public educational opportunities that can provide school models designed around military families’ needs.
Further, military-connected students often have obstacles in quickly getting up to speed when arriving at a new school. On average, these students experience six to nine school changes during the course of their K-12 careers. Leveraging technology, and supporting teachers with strategies and actionable information on where students are in relation to state standards to guide their academic interventions, can cut through lost time and angst.
Every student, especially those that are military-connected, would benefit from such comprehensive integration of classroom technology to support teachers in tailoring instruction to each student’s needs and pace.
Military readiness involves many critical considerations and can be affected by the quality of life for service members and their families. Central to whether quality of life considerations are positive or not is the educational quality available to military families. While Virginia has made solid efforts in meeting the needs of military-connected students and families, it still has room for improvement in providing these students consistently better educational opportunities.
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