Military Family Shoppers Guide to Finding a Good School
By: MJ Boice
How far would you go to preserve the quality of your child’s education?
With no uniform education standards across state lines, many military families choose go to great lengths to make sure their children receive quality curriculum. Some pick homeschooling, long commutes, or even living apart if they receive PCS orders to move to an installation in an area where schools don’t perform very well.
Fortunately, more school districts have open enrollment laws and school choice options, which allow flexibility for military families to cross district boundaries and find the best school for their child. But there’s no guarantee that a family’s new duty station will be in a place that offers these options. In a perfect world, all areas would allow military kids to be enrolled in nearby school districts based on their military-connected status. But until all states agree on this or federal legislation take care of this issue, military families have some pretty tough choices to make if they find themselves moving to a sub-par school district.
Military families find themselves searching for homes around schools that have high standards and will meet their child’s needs. Some families choose to live in neighborhoods several districts away from their new duty station so their child can receive a high-quality education. However, some may not be able to afford a home in neighborhoods with the best school options. Others are so reluctant to sacrifice their child’s education they choose to get out of the military altogether.
Just because your family moves all over the map, doesn’t mean school standards should be all over the map, too. If you’re wondering how to shop around for the best educational options for your military kid, we’ve got you covered.
Understanding Education Standards
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a federal education law requiring states to set college and career-ready education standards. The law allows each state to develop their own system to measure student progress and school performance, which can vary greatly across state lines.
To help parents better understand ESSA and how it impacts their child’s education, the Collaborative for Student Success initiated a project that monitors when states introduce or pass education legislation as they implement ESSA across the country.
If you’re wondering how your new state’s education system stacks up under ESSA, or want to know what national and state education experts have to say about your new state’s education system, you’ll want to look into the Check State Plans Project. This initiative gathers feedback from experts based on the belief that states should embrace the flexibility ESSA affords them. The experts assess and address the education standards in each state and rate them based on areas, like how they’re closing the achievement gap, whether they ensure parents have access to meaningful data, how states are set standards for what students should know, and how states respond to failing schools.
Since each state sets the bar at different levels, understanding some of the different standardized tests or school district reports might get a little confusing. GreatSchools, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering parents, can be a great resource in understanding state assessments and scores. They even created a Test Guide for Parents to help you understand what your child should be learning, and when. They also provide school information and parent resources to help you choose the right school for your military-connected kid.
School Liaison Officer
School Liaison Officers (SLO) are an installation’s primary point of contact for all things school-related. One of the first things you should do before you move is contact these subject matter experts. They will assist your family with school issues, offer support, provide local resources, and serve as a go-between in forging partnerships between schools and the military community.
The Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children was created to address the unique issues military-connected children face as they move with their military family. When military kids transition to a new school district, they face a host of barriers that impact enrollment, attendance, eligibility, and graduation requirements. While the Interstate Compact doesn’t influence local standards of education, it does help ease transition woes to level the playing field for military-connected students. This is one of the most important benefits to become knowledgeable on, as many school administrators aren’t always familiar with a military family’s rights and responsibilities under the Interstate Compact. It’s not uncommon for parents of military kids to be the ones educating the educators on how the Interstate Compact works, but who better to teach this topic than those who live military life themselves?
Our nation’s military kids deserve a high-quality education no matter where military life takes them. Their education shouldn’t be at risk of becoming a casualty to inconsistent standards every time their parents receive PCS orders. That’s why it’s critical that parents, teachers, community members, and policymakers continue to insist states set high and consistent standards across the board.
Posted April 12, 2018