A group of military spouses is taking on the issue of the quality of education in schools, promoting Common Core State Standards as the best chance to raise the bar for military children — and all children.
Fifteen people, including primarily spouses of active-duty and retired service members from all branches of service, have launched Military Families for High Standards. Active-duty members and government civilians are also part of the group.
"It's a wonderful opportunity to organize military spouses to support the kind of educational opportunities their children deserve," said Christi Ham, chairwoman of the organization. A former teacher, she has moved 26 times over the 38-year military career of her husband, retired Army Gen. Carter Ham. Their two children are grown, with children of their own.
Military Families for High Standards contends that the Common Core will bring high consistent standards that ensure students can transfer easily from one school to another without penalty.
On the average, military families move six to nine times during a child's K-12 education. In some cases, military students find themselves in a new school where they may be bored because they've already learned the material. In others, they may struggle to catch up to the grade level.
Common Core State Standards were developed by state education chiefs and governors as a set of college- and career-ready standards for students in kindergarten through 12th grade in math and language arts. The standards have been adopted by 43 states, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity. DoDEA is in the process of transitioning to Common Core, which it calls "College and Career Ready Standards," over the next five years.
The Common Core standards have been controversial, with critics saying it doesn't guarantee improvements in testing and takes away control from states. Some states have rescinded their previous adoption of Common Core; others have made revisions. Some candidates in this year's presidential election have talked about ending Common Core.
Ham said she has met with mixed reaction in the military community but has found that people are more than willing to listen. She said it's an important step that DoDEA has adopted the Common Core standards.
Military parents have long complained about the quality of local schools in some areas. There have been efforts to address some issues, including the work of the Military Child Education Coalition in providing resources and support systems for military students, parents, commands and the schools that educate those children.
And all 50 states have adopted the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. Through the compact, the states aim to smooth out administrative issues involved in moving from one school to another — such as differing graduation requirements, transfer of credits, and eligibility for extracurricular activities. A commission oversees the effort.
But the compact doesn't address the quality of education.
Ham said the nonprofit Collaborative for Student Success, which promotes Common Core, approached her with information about how military children could benefit from consistent standards in education, and sought her support.
In deciding to form the new organization and a partnership with the Collaborative, she thought of all the military parents who have expressed concerns to her about their children's education over the years. Ham said when her own family found the quality of schools was lacking, their alternative was Catholic schools.
Military Families for High Standards will be speaking out about the challenges military families face and how these high standards could make it easier for military children.
While military families can't necessarily influence their civilian officials in terms of education policies, those who do have control of education often listen to the concerns of parents, teachers, and students in their communities, she said.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.