From the Fayetteville (NC) Observer
Students in Cumberland County schools are looking forward to a well-deserved summer break. But when they return in the fall, class rosters will likely look quite different.
Part of the reason for the turnover lies with U.S. Army’s constant movement of soldiers in and out of the Fayetteville area. This can cause chaos for soldiers and their families. According to a recent survey conducted by the publication Military Times, 70 percent of respondents said moving between states added challenges to their children’s education.
Consider this: on average, a military family moves once every 18 to 24 months. That means a military-connected child can expect to move six to nine times between the time he or she starts kindergarten and graduates high school. That means six to nine different schools and the headaches that go along with being the new kid in school.
As the nation’s largest Army installation ranked by population, chances are one of those stops may be Ft. Bragg. Since most military families who are based at Ft. Bragg live in Cumberland County, they are eager to know about the quality of schools.
In a report released earlier this year, the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Virginia-based think tank, examined the performance of military-connected students in several states with large military populations. The assessment found the performance of students varies dramatically depending on geography.
As part of the study, researchers examined how students across the state did compared to national averages on key benchmarks.
The results were mixed, at best. Compared to students in the rest of the state, Cumberland County students outperformed the counterparts on end-of-year tests in fourth grade reading. But they significantly underperformed them in eighth grade math.
Compared to the projected national benchmarks, however, only 41 percent of fourth graders were considered proficient in English. Just 26 percent of eighth graders achieved proficiency in math.
Researchers also noted a significant achievement gap in the statewide results. White students in the state were more likely to score proficient than black and Hispanic students in both fourth grade reading and eighth grade math by a factor of at least two to one. Given 17 percent of active duty families nationally are black and 12 percent are Hispanic, this is especially worrisome.
So, what can Cumberland County schools do to improve their collective lot, given the challenge of a large, mobile military community?
First, schools should continue to their push to teach to the state’s high educational standards. These standards were mandated to ensure that all students are college or career ready upon graduation.
Where student outcomes are falling short, schools should bolster support for teachers in innovative ways to make sure more students succeed. For example, teaching strategies that integrate classroom technology and give teachers fast, actionable information on the progress of individual students can help them to personalize learning opportunities and target interventions and support.
Cumberland County schools must work to take full advantage of the information gleaned from the state’s military student identifier. The identifier is a tool designed to help track the progress of military-connected students.
Knowing where military-connected students are and what kind of education they are receiving is important. This allows school boards to direct resources to the schools that teach them. Effective use of the military student identifier can ensure that these students have the same chance to succeed as every other student.
The school districts in Cumberland County can’t change the nomadic nature of military life. But they can make sure that the children of the men and women of the U.S. Army who pass through their schools are on track for academic success during their brief visit.
Don Soifer is executive vice president of the Lexington Institute, a Virginia-based think tank. Christi Ham is chairwoman of Military Families for High Standards.
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