From the Homefront: Schools to track progress of military kids

Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 15 years. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Military Family Advisory Network.

Last fall, Delilah Hall, age 7 at the time, and her brother Landon, 3 at the time, had different reasons for being excited about the beginning of the school year. Photo courtesy of the Hall family.

Last fall, Delilah Hall, age 7 at the time, and her brother Landon, 3 at the time, had different reasons for being excited about the beginning of the school year. Photo courtesy of the Hall family.

For the first time, public schools will collect information about the educational experiences of military kids.

Starting this school year, a Military Student Identifier will help public school systems collect data to track and evaluate student performance in the wake of the challenges military kids face. The identifier will help pinpoint students’ needs as they try to succeed in school while also managing frequent moves, parents’ absences, instability and change.

The logistics of how this will work in each school district are still being hashed out, but we have answers to some common questions about the identifier.

More than half of military kids are school aged, and they move three times more often than civilian kids. Every school district in the country has students who are connected to military life, according to the Military Child Education Coalition.

The data collected about military-connected students will help identify as a group whether there are common obstacles in the progression of their educations.

“The Military Student Identifier doesn’t ask which service branch the student’s parent is affiliated with, but we can discern information by region and location. We are still in the early implementation stage on this legislation, and it’s important to emphasize that this data doesn’t identify an individual student, but does look at group patterns,” said Dr. Mary Keller, the president and CEO of the Military Child Education Coalition.

This adjustment in education law is a unique change for military families and their children’s educations.

“This is the first time in our nation’s history that we are recognizing military students as a group in education policy, and we are deeply grateful to everyone who worked on this effort,” she said.

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

Where did this come from? The identifier is part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which became law in December. The act is an update to the No Child Left Behind act. ESSA considers military children a vulnerable subgroup, and therefore in need of tracking to ensure they get the services they need to thrive.

There have been calls for some sort of data collection identifier for years. The Government Accountability Office recommended this kind of change in a 2011 report. In January 2015, The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission studied active duty military members and their families, and came up with a series of recommendations. One of those recommendations called for a military student identifier. President Barack Obama communicated his immediate support of that recommendation, along with 9 others, soon after the MCMRC released its report.

Why is this necessary? We just don’t know enough about how best to serve military kids during the course of their K-12 educations. This is the first effort to collect a comprehensive picture of how military kids perform at school.

The Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, which got its start in 2008 and has now been accepted by all 50 states, only collects data on standardized test scores. The intent of the compact was to alleviate some of the challenges and disruption in education that comes from moving so often.

Some of the questions the data from the identifier hopes to answer: Where are military kids living? How do they do in school? Are their graduation rates different from civilian kids’ rates? Are the numbers of absences or disciplinary incidences different than other populations? And can any of this be tied to parents’ deployments or absences?

Once they have those answers, which may take a few years to put together, schools can then make sure military kids have programs in place to help them do well, as well as to ensure that the schools in which they are enrolled know they are there and what they may need to flourish.

Are kids from all branches of military service included? Not yet. The legislation requires tracking of children of active duty parents who serve in the Armed Forces. It will include kids from all branches of service (including the Coast Guard), but not children of parents who serve in the National Guard or Reserves. However, states can choose to add those students to the data collection on their own (meaning it’s not required, but it can be done).

How is this going to work? No one is exactly sure. The Department of Education will likely craft a policy for school districts. School districts may not yet be aware that the provision exists. For some, complying with the MSI may be as easy as adding a new data field to the information public schools are already collecting. Other states have already started collecting information about military kids.

The timeline requires that the final regulations for all of the requirements in the act, not just the identifier, are released this fall, and the states develop their plans in response in the spring. By next school year, this should all be solidly in effect. You can follow along with your state’s progress here.

What are key issues facing military kids in schools? Share your thoughts below.

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The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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