Opinion: How Common Core helps military families

One of the tasks a military family quickly learns to deal with is upheaval. After all, every two to three years the orders come from headquarters: Pack up and move. After the second or third move, the family learns there are some things that it can control (the move itself). But there are other things it cannot (the quality of schools at the new base).

Because military families move so often, each family develops its own coping mechanisms. These help deal with the emotional trauma of uprooting a family and moving, whether it is across the state or around the world.

Having moved 26 times over my husband's 38-year military career, I perfected my own tricks to make it easier for my family to adjust. For example, whenever we moved, the first thing my husband and I set up was the stereo. Next came our kids' rooms. We also put our tchotchkes in the same place. As a result, our home looked the same whether we were living in California or Germany.

But one thing that always challenged us was the quality of schools.

Military families move an average of six to nine times throughout a child's K-12 career. That's a new school every year-and-a-half to two years.

Like other parents, military families take their children's education seriously.

When moving, we tapped into informal networks that let us know where the good schools were near the base. Public schools would have been the best option — but too often we found that they were lacking and were forced to look at alternatives. For our family, it was Catholic schools.

But even with alternatives, we still had to face the fact that standards vary from community to community and state to state.

Military families continue to suffer because of inconsistent academic standards. In some cases, our children are forced to relearn content they have already mastered. In other cases, they enter classes far behind their peers. This is, of course, on top of having to adjust to a new home, new friends and a new school environment.

What military families need is simple. We need to know that when our children attend a public school near our new home, they will receive a high-quality education. This can be accomplished with a series of high, consistent standards that ensure that all students will be able to easily transfer from school to school without penalty.

Fortunately, this set of standards already exists — and represents our best chance to raise the bar for all students. They are the Common Core State Standards.

Developed by governors and adopted by 43 states, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), Common Core is the only set of national academic standards covering mathematics and language arts. Common Core lays out what a student must master at each grade level. If successful, the student will be on track to move to the next grade level and graduate from high school ready for college or a career. While Common Core sets benchmarks to measure progress, it does not dictate which curriculum or teaching methods to use. That is left up to local states and communities.

High standards can ensure that the children of our military families have a fighting chance to succeed.

That's why we have formed Military Families for High Standards. Our goal is to educate military families, our friends and our allies about the benefits of high, consistent standards. We also want to provide a counterbalance against those who argue against raising the bar for our children.

Over the next several months, our group will be speaking out about the challenges that military families face. We will also talk about the reasons why military communities should support high standards like the Common Core.

The military lifestyle can be a nomadic one. But with the right tools, including a high-quality education, we can make it a little easier on our kids.
Christi Ham, an Army spouse and educator, is the chairwoman of Military Families for High Standards. Mrs. Ham She can be reached at militaryfamilies@forstudentsuccess.org.

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