AUSA supports creation of military child ‘student data identifier’

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Since 2001, military children have experienced multiple separations from one or possibly both parents due to combat deployments.

Surveys have been conducted and studies written on the emotional toll the past 14 years of war have had on service families.

Unfortunately, no national system has been established to collect public school-based data on military children, which could show possible impacts on academic performance and help educators develop strategies to aid struggling children.

But thanks to the efforts of The Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), with the support of the Association of the United States Army and other service-affiliated organizations, there is a renewed focus on having Congress create such a tool – the military-connected student data identifier.

MCEC is asking Congress to amend section 1501 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to direct state and local education agencies to collect data about military-connected students as a report-only subgroup.

The issue was important enough to be included as a recommendation in the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) report (http://www.mcrmc.gov/).

According to Mary Keller, MCEC president and CEO, there are more than 1.1 million school-age military children from active duty, guard and reserve families, with 80 percent attending public schools around the country.

Almost every school district in the nation serves a military-affiliated child.

Making sure these children are succeeding in school while facing the challenges that come with military life is the main goal of the student data identifier, noted Keller.

"We are already collecting data nationally on children in special needs programs, children in poverty or in English as a Second Language programs," Keller said.

Adding, "Data about military-connected children should be collected and studied in order to understand their amplified need for attention from educators and special program supports."

Keller explained that the data would prove invaluable for developing strategies for aiding classroom and extra-curricular success for all military children. Several states have already developed their own data collection programs on military school children, but a national effort is needed to provide more reliable results, she said.

When established, the student identifier would not identify individual children, only military children as a group. "We recognize the privacy concerns parents have and the protections that exist," noted Keller.

What questions would a data identifier ask and how could the collected information help military children?

According to MCEC, studies could show exactly where military-connected children attend school; assess academic performance compared to their civilian peers; determine if military children graduate high school at the same rate as civilian students, and if they choose higher education options or enter the workforce.

Additionally, MCEC officials say a military-connection data element would aid education professionals and government policy makers in assessing vital education success markers, to include:

Academic progress and proficiency

Special and advanced program par- ticipation

Mobility and dropout rates

Patterns over time across state and district lines

(See http://www.militarychild.org/student-identifier)

The results of the data collection could then be used as a resource when developing student support programs and help in early intervention efforts, said Keller, to ensure all military children have the best opportunity to succeed in school.

"This is why AUSA and the AUSA Family Readiness Directorate supports the creation of a military student data identifier," said family readiness director Patty Barron.

Adding, "Through my travels around the country I have been struck by how few educators and school administrators actually know the number of military-connected children in their districts. A military student data identifier would be a way to increase that awareness."

She also noted, "A national effort is needed to track how our military children are performing and to ensure the education system is doing all it can for them."

Department of Defense leaders also recognize the need for the data identifier and have made it one of the top 10 issues in the DoD State Liaison Initiative. An explanation of the program on the USA4MilitaryFamilies web site (http://www.usa4militaryfamilies.dod.mil/) states that military student data could "[facilitate] decision making to improve distribution of DoD and local resources, interventions and other support for maximum impact to schools and students in need [and build] awareness at the school and classroom level of students that might be affected by the deployment or service of a parent or guardian or by frequent moves."

DoD experts also believe this type of identifier would not overly stress school district budgets since many are already collecting data on other subgroups.

For now, service families can only hope that congressional leaders pay attention to the MCRMC recommendation and the voices of military leaders and child advocates and vote for the data collection amendment to the current ESEA.

At press time, Congress had not yet voted on the ESEA.

You can check the status of the act on the MCEC website, http://www.militarychild.org/. AUSA will also be following the progress of this initiative.

(Editor’s note: Alice Swan is a member of AUSA’s Spouse Advisory Group, and writes for Comprint Military Publications, Inc., Washington, D.C.)