The Mil Life: Ensuring a quality education for military children

Jul 20, 2011

In a military family, a child's education can sometimes be hampered by frequent moves and the stress of deployed family members. Chat with Stephanie Himel Nelson and Sandy Franklin about how to best help your child cope with these types of issues and improve their chances at a quality education. Ask Stephanie and Sandy for advice, share your own experiences and give advice to others in this hour-long chat.

This chat is part of The Mil Life, an going chat series the Post hosts for military families. The Mil Life chats take place every Wednesday at noon ET.

Ask questions, get advice, share your own experience and weigh in on this military topic!

Check out these military resources for you and your family!

Blue Star Families
Military Officers Association of America
Gold Star Wives

Welcome to this week's Mil Life chat!  Today we'll be discussing our military kids and education.  How do we keep them on track through multiple moves and deployments? How do we educate our school systems about the special challenges military kids face?

Dr. Sandy Franklin joins us today to help answer some of these serios questions.  Dr. Franklin serves as the Director of Programs and Services for the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) and, with 30 years as an educator, she's got a great deal of experience with assisting our MilKids. Plus, Dr. Franklin is an Army "brat" herself, so she's been there and done that.  Dr. Franklin, thank you so much for joining us!

It is my pleasure to join this chat as we discuss military students and education.  There is no topic of more importance than ensuring we provide the very best to our students.

I was brought up in a military family and to me it was the greatest experience of my life. I have the opportunity to meet people you read about in history books; to see foreign countries, and to get an education that exceeds anything that the current public school system has to offer. In fact some of my high school books were the same ones that I had for some of my college counrses. I keep hearing how hard it is on military families, I suppose there are time that it is, but things are only hard of you make them - yes there was separations when my father was on sea duty - but the opportunities were endless and I would not trade my childhood for any other.

New Mexico - I wouldn't change my own experiences for the world either. I think travel and being forced to change schools made me who I am today. I'm an introvert who finds it easy to make friends anywhere. I don't know that I would have that, and so many other unique life skills, if I hadn't moved a great deal as a child.

That being said, some kids really do have special needs that need to be addressed at any school. I can't imagine having to sit down with a new school every two years and hammer out the evaluations, therapies, etc... that my child had had. 

It is what you make of it, yes, but even good students sometimes struggle with emotional or educational issues when moving or going through a deployment.  If we can educate teachers and schools about those unique issues, then we should.  Let's make being a military child the best experience it can possibly be.

You have articulated so well the benefits of the military life on the development of the whole child.  The life experiences provided to students include enrichment far beyond anything that can be provided in a textbook.

Our hardest issue we have come across is transferring schools with two identified gifted children. In California they were able to attend a gifted school. We moved halfway through the school year to Virginia. We were NOT allowed ot transfer them into a gifted school but yet had to put them in a regular school right away. At that school they only tested one child for the gifted program rather then both. Then my child had to wait a full year before applying for the local gifted school. This would have made him switch too many schools in too short of a time and we were not comfortable with this. Therefore, his education was not where we, as parents, thought it should be. How can we make it easier for gifted children to do direct transfers from gifted school to gifted school when they move from state to state because of the military lifestyle?

Transferring schools with two identified gifted children can definitely be a challenge.  Were you aware of the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children?  Many states have agreed to abide by the compact, to include California and Virginia, the two states to which you refer.  The compact covers receiving schools giving consideration to educational program placement such as gifted programs, honoring the eligibility criteria from the sending state.

You can find more about the Interstate Compact Dr. Franklin mentioned here:

You'll be interested to know that Virginia has signed on to the compact. But boots on the ground have told me that sometimes schools need to be reminded of this.  Hopefully being armed with this knowledge will help you in the future when your kids transfer.

We were overseas and enrolled in a DODDS school on a military post. The first year our daughter had 7 different teachers, mostly substitutes requiring only a H.S. diploma. The second year we were with a different garrison and had a similar situation with another 7 different teachers. The turnover rates for the early elementary teachers was frustrating and our daughter ended up being behind her stateside peers during those years. We are about to return overseas and I am wondering what other military families would suggest, if they have had similar situations, and how the DODDS schools are now. Are there options outside DODDS schools for a quality education overseas?

I'm hoping some readers will share their experiences!

My kids haven't attended overseas DODDS schools, but I did and my brother did.  I actually found I was ahead of my stateside peers when we returned, something my parents weren't expecting.

But, I also know people who are looking outside the DODDS system and sending their children to local schools where they can learn the language.  Depending on where you are, there may also be English language schools in your area.

The extreme turnover you describe above is not a pattern which we see in regard to personnel within the DoDDS system.  To the best of my knoweldge, such a case is not the norm.  Those early, formative years are critical in the academic development of a child, and experiencing a lack of consistency within teaching ranks could definitely impact student progress.   You specifically asked about what options are outside of DoDDS schools for a quality education overseas?  This is definitely a question with challenge.  Quality is the optimal word here.  As a public educator by profession, I believe the benefits of public education outweigh other options such as homeschooling and virtual learning. However, our organization recognizes and supports that families must make choices aligned with the specific needs of their children given the educational surroundings in which they find themselves. 

I live in Yuma, Ariz. and the schools there are substandard. I am spending an incredible amount of money on a private education that is still underperforming. And while I know this is a temporary duty station (two more years), how can I help my kids stay "on par" with the rest of their peers? Do you recommend books, worksheets etc.? Thanks

I'm guessing that Dr. Franklin, as an educator, will have a ton of great suggestions.  I know that in my family, my son is a bit behind on reading, so we work with him at home.  I try not to make it too formal, but we read books his school has recommended, and from time to time do workbooks because he loves them.

You may want to consider some online options for tutorials such as the Kahn Academy.  The website is This is a free, educational website which provides tutorials in many areas, especially math, science and economics. 

It would be very efficient if local stateside school districts could help a military kiddo integrate their studies if transferring to a stateside school from a DoD school. I think DoDDs does a great job of using a transfer "friendly" curriculum from one DoDD school to another.. How many CONUS school districts and bases have liaisons who ACTUALLY work with each other to create this type of integration? P.S. Special Ed is a whole other issue... Thanks, Cynthe Winebrenner, Colorado Springs, USAF vet and spouse ParaEducator, Colorado Springs School District 11

Now that's a great question.  I'd love to know how many have liaisons as well.  I know that where I live, in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, there are liaisons.  But this is a very military area.

Your comments about the DoDDS curriculum capture my attention.  Can you tell me a little more about what you mean by "integrate their studies"?  Are you wondering about curriculum alignment between DoDDS and stateside school districts so districts teach the same content at the same grade level?

Many states do have School Liaison Officers (SLO), especially through the Army who help with transition issues. 

Hi Stephanie -- I'm about to marry a man (in 17 days!) who is joining the Air Force. I say "joining" because he is actively in the DEP, so we're still waiting for the right job. At any rate, my three older sisters can't understand why I'm willing to sacrifice a lot for the military lifestyle. They think I'm sticking my head in the sand about it all, and that it will be a hopeless experience that is nothing but miserable. I know it will be hard, maybe the hardest thing I ever do, but I can't help but be excited. I think it will be hard, but great, too. What can I tell them that will ease their worry?

Congratulations!  And welcome to the military family.  And the "family" aspect is one thing that should definitely reassure your sisters.  Yes, the lifestyle can be challenging, but we get to travel, we meet new people and make friends all over the world, and we usually have a great support system wherever we go. Being part of a MilFam is pretty darn special!

I hope that helps!

Can you briefly describe how the continuity of services is (hopefully) maintained for students with disabilities as they move to and from DoDDS and civilian school systems. Also, as a special education professional (PhD level), what are some reputable organizations that might be good to contact so that I can volunteer my skills to support students with disabilities from military families?

This area is often the greatest challenge for families as they move from installation to installation, both CONUS and OCONUS- stateside and overseas.  Research conducted by the Military Child Education Coalition in July 2009 dealt with this very topic. Our research found that continuity of care was highly important to Army families and often was the gap missing during transition.  Advanced planning, communication, and complete records are three of the most important emphases in continuity of services. The EFMP family should be monitored during transition with School Liaison Officers intervening as necesaary.  We recommend that parents forward records to the gaining installation, while maintaining a complete duplicate file.  A standard notebook/folder system is helpful which documents what services the child has experienced in the sending school.  This way, when moving, families present the notebook to campus professionals to use as a guide for linking old services to new, based on assessment data. The vocabulary and language defining programs and services varies from state to state, so such examples allow schools to "see" what has been provided rather than rely on program names or definitions. There is so much to mention in this question, that time does not allow for expansion to the level that adequately addresses the issue.

About volunteering with military special education children - I recently found out about a great organization called STOMP - Specialized Training of Military Parents ( It's a nationwide, civilian-run organization that provides information and training for military parents whose children have special medical, educational, or mental health needs.

It sounds like an organization that could use talents like yours.

Can you please comment on the re-authorization of ESEA and IDEA as it relates to military children who need to access special education. What is MCEC doing to ensure military kids are going to be considered when they pass these bills again? Any comments on the GAO report on Impact Aid that came out in March? Seems like a billion dollars that no one knows is working or not.

In some ways, these two topics go hand in hand.  At MCEC, we believe that there is a need for accurate, timely, and long-term student data on military-connected students to inform decisions, whether those decisions are about special needs students or how Impact Aid is spent at the district level. We champion the request that military-connected students be identified, with a definition that includes all branches of the service, including Guard and Reserve students. When we can accurately identify military students through a simple mechanism such as asking if they are military connected at time of enrollment, we can do much to help students.  As of now, this group is not identified, which only broadens the gaps between services provided to students and the goal of supporting all military-connected students to the highest extent possible. The GAO identified the need for better information to assess students, and we agree with those conclusions. Until military dependent students are identified as a student group, questions will still arise about the specific use and effectiveness of programs and services. We welcome the transparency that results from data gathering and reporting.

Hi. One of the things people outside the military don't think about is the child of deployed parents who is sent to another State to live with relatives and go through school for a year or more. DODDS Europe seemed to be in a different (seemed to be more advanced) level than public schools and the academic, as well as the emotional, adjustments are hard for them. It's a problem without a clear solution.

The challenge faced by families as they sometimes have to send children to live with relatives during deployment is a tough one.  As a former principal at a school serving Fort Hood, Texas students, this was often the case.  Our teachers were terrific at helping children transition to the new family member.  Classes stayed in contact via email and letters from school friends.  One class even became a "buddy class" with the new class the child was in.  Often, the child would return to our school when the parent returned from deployment, and we insured the child was reassigned to the original teacher to keep consistency at school for the child to the greatest extent possible.

But I have done extensive research recently on homeschooling. I know it sounds momentous, but with the difficulties of finding a 'new' school often, would that be a good idea to pursue for many military families?

It is certainly a viable option for some families. 

I know many military families who have successfully homeschooled for exactly that reason. Best of luck to you.

Thank you so much for joining us today but we're out of time for the week.  Please join us again next week at the same time for another Mil Life chat.

Thank you to Dr. Sandy Franklin for her time and advice. I know I've learned a lot today, so I hope all of you have as well!  Be sure to visit the Military Child Education Coalition website for resources for your military child.

Thank you for allowing me to participate in this rich discussion.  It has been a pleasure.

In This Chat
Stephanie Himel-Nelson
Stephanie Himel-Nelson is the communications director for Blue Star Families, a national nonprofit supporting military families. She left her career as an attorney to advocate for military families three years ago and hasn't looked back. Stephanie grew up in the military as an Air Force "brat" and she is still immersed in the military life. Stephanie's husband recently retired after 20 years in the Navy and her brother, a former Army soldier, is now serving in the Ohio National Guard. She lives with her husband and two boys, ages 5 and 6, in Chesapeake, Virginia.
Sandy Franklin
Dr. Sandy Franklin serves as the Director of Programs and Services for the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) following a thirty one year career as an educator within the Killeen Independent School District, Killeen, Texas. Sandy’s professional, educational career included service as an elementary school teacher, assistant principal, principal, and instructional leader, most recently including supervision and responsibility for ten elementary schools and four middle schools within the district.

Sandy was born in Killeen, Texas where her father served in the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Hood. She graduated from the University of Mary Hardin Baylor in 1979 with a degree in elementary education with a specialization in early childhood and English. She earned a Master’s degree in Educational Administration in 1984 from Tarleton State University. She earned her doctorate in Education in 2010 from Tarleton State University’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. She holds professional certification in teaching elementary, as well as early childhood, supervision, mid-management, and superintendency.
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