From the Richmond Times-Dispatch
For Virginia, home to more than 122,000 active-duty military personnel and 73,000 military-connected children, the connection between quality of education for military families and our nation’s military readiness has become increasingly important.
A new report by the Lexington Institute and the Collaborative for Student Success found that the commonwealth has made powerful strides in meeting the education needs of military families, but still has room to make significant improvements.
In fact, a recent national poll of military families published in connection with this report found that more than one-third of current and former military felt that dissatisfaction with their child’s education would be a significant factor in deciding whether or not to continue their military service. Similarly, two out of five in the Military Times poll said they have, or would, decline a career-advancing job at another installation because of differences in school quality.
Virginia’s schools and school divisions vary in the quality of the programs each offers, differences that matter for every family. The frequent deployments associated with a military career — military families often attend more than six different school districts because of military deployments — mean they find themselves more at the mercy of such disparities.
Since Virginia is a state where children of military families make up a large portion of the student population, there is increased pressure to ensure that all military-connected students have access to quality programs.
Overall, 77 percent of Virginia’s fourth-graders scored at or above grade-level proficiency in English Language Arts (ELA) on the commonwealth’s Standards of Learning (SOL) assessments, while 73 percent of eighth-graders did so in math. Each of these is well above the national average.
Of course, students at some schools scored proficient at much higher rates, others much lower. For military families, who are presented with challenges above and beyond education, that can raise very real questions and concerns.
But how do parents know what Virginia’s grade-level proficiency standards mean for their child? On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the test known as the Nation’s Report Card, the number of Virginia fourth-graders at grade-level ELA proficiency was 34 percentage points lower than the SOL results indicated. On math, NAEP measured Virginia eighth-graders’ grade-level proficiency at 36 percentage points lower than SOLs.
The Collaborative for Student Success calls this disparity “The Honesty Gap.” For Virginia to have such a large disparity is a red flag for parents.
There are many ways Virginia can help make military families’ education experiences positive ones:
Different school districts around the commonwealth, including the Loudoun and Bedford county public schools, are shifting their teaching approaches to personalized learning models that integrate technology and state-of-the-art instructional software.
They are finding that with the changes, teachers can better understand and address specifics about each child’s educational needs, making students more active participants in their learning.
To reach each student’s potential, innovative teaching models like these require flexibility from rigid and highly-prescriptive school regulations. School accountability systems that truly measure student mastery, rather than seat time, are especially useful for learning models where students advance at different rates of learning.
New “Profile of a Graduate” high school graduation standards, signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe and set to take effect for ninth graders for the 2018-19 school year, are a good step toward helping military teenagers assure their track to college and career readiness.
The nonprofit National Math and Science Initiative’s work in Virginia has allowed thousands of military-connected high school students access to Advanced Placement courses, thanks to funding support from employers like BAE, Boeing, and the Department of Defense Education Activity.
These students’ qualifying scores on AP exams in districts including the Virginia Beach Public Schools have risen dramatically as a result.
Often the challenges that military families face with their children’s education are not unique, just more complicated and more frequent.
Ensuring that schools are equipped to serve their unique educational needs matters a great deal.
Because Virginia schools generally are considered well above the national average, military families generally consider themselves lucky to be assigned here. We must continue to work to ensure that their children receive the highest-quality education Virginia can provide.
Jim Cowen, a former officer in the United States Navy, is executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success in Alexandria and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Don Soifer is executive vice president of the Lexington Institute in Arlington and can be reached at email@example.com.
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