IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Supporting Military-Connected Students

Through the Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students program, IES supports research to improve the education outcomes of students who face social/behavioral and academic challenges because they frequently move from school to school due to changes in residence and/or unstable living arrangements. This category of students, typically referred to as highly-mobile students, includes students who are homeless, in foster care, from migrant backgrounds, or military-connected. In this guest blog, Timothy Cavell, PhD, University of Arkansas and Renée Spencer, EdD, Boston University discuss their IES-funded research on military-connected students.

Why study military-connected students? Photo of Renée SpencerPhoto of Timothy Cavell

Virtually every school district in the United States educates a child whose parent or guardian is serving in the Armed Forces. Supported by two separate IES awards, our team of researchers is working to understand how schools can better serve military students and their families. Our work focuses specifically on students who have at least one parent/guardian on active (full-time) duty in the U.S. military. We refer to these students as military-connected. Their lives are typified by transition and often entail tremendous sacrifice. For some, the challenges involve a parent deployed into combat or a parent returning from combat. For many others, the challenges are tied to the frequent transitions (e.g., permanent changes of station, temporary duty assignments) required of military families. Our IES-funded research specifically works with military-connected students within the North Thurston Public Schools (NTPS), a school district in Lacey, Washington, about 15 miles southwest of Joint (Army/Air Force) Base Lewis-McChord.

How does your research address the needs of military-connected students?

The Military Student Mentoring (MSM) project which began 4 years ago, is an effort to develop and test the benefits of school-based mentoring for military students. We reasoned that school-based mentoring was a measured response to the needs of students who are often quite resilient but who, at times, might need extra support. A key component of the intervention was developing a mentoring-delivery system anchored by a district-level MSM Coordinator who forged home-school-community (HSC) Action Teams comprised of school staff (e.g., school counselor), military parents, and community leaders. Together, the MSM Coordinator and HSC Action Teams engaged military families, identified military students who might benefit from school-based mentoring, and recruited adult volunteers to serve as mentors. These volunteers were then screened, trained, and supported by a local Big Brothers Big Sisters agency. Preliminary findings from our initial launch and subsequent pilot study support the feasibility and usability of the MSM model and point to expected gains in students’ perceptions of support.  Future steps involve efforts to making MSM more portable and self-sustaining and testing its efficacy more broadly.

Our second project, the Active-Duty Military Families and School Supports (ADMFSS) study, which was funded just this year, explores school supports for highly mobile military students. It is estimated that military students experience 6 to 9 moves during their K-12 years—a mobility rate three times that of non-military children. Most military families and students are resilient and weather these disruptions well, but some are negatively affected by the strain of multiple moves. Growing recognition of these stresses faced by military families has led to calls for schools to offer greater and more targeted support to these students.

We suspect that student mobility is not directly linked to educational outcomes; rather, repeated moves may strain families’ capacity to adjust to new communities and impede students’ ability to connect with yet another learning environment. Therefore, we will be exploring the role that school supports play in fostering military students’ sense of school connectedness. Broadly, the term school connectedness refers to students’ relationship with their school and the extent to which they feel accepted, respected, and supported by others in the school environment. Our basic premise is that high mobility can be harmful to military students’ educational outcomes when it undermines the degree to which they feel connected to school and to students and staff in their school. Supports provided by schools have the potential to buffer military students from the negative effects of high mobility on school connectedness, thereby reducing their risk for poor educational outcomes. Importantly, connectedness is an arena in which schools can take clear and effective action.

Through both of these projects, our ultimate goal is to learn enough to equip and guide other school districts that wish to serve those families who have served our country with courage and distinction.

Katina Stapleton is the program officer for the Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students research program.

Every Transition Counts for Students in Foster Care

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Institute of Education Science funds and supports Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships (RPP) that seek to address significant challenges in education. In this guest blog post, Elysia Clemens (pictured left), of the University of Northern Colorado, and Judith Martinez (pictured right), of the Colorado Department of Education, describe the work that their IES-funded RPP is doing to better understand and improve outcomes for students in foster care.

May is Foster Care Awareness Month and 2017 is an important year for raising awareness of the educational outcomes and educational stability of students in foster care.

With passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), provisions are now in place for states to report on the academic performance and status of students in foster care. ESSA also requires collaboration between child welfare and education agencies to ensure the educational stability (PDF) of students while they are in foster care. This includes reducing the number of school changes to those that are in a student’s best interest and ensuring smooth transitions when changing schools is necessary.

To address the need for baseline data on how students in foster care are faring academically, the University of Northern Colorado, the Colorado Department of Education, and the Colorado Department of Human Services formed a researcher-practitioner partnership in 2014. This IES-funded partnership is currently researching the connection between child welfare placement changes and school changes and how that relates to the academic success of students.

Our goals are to raise awareness of gaps in academic achievement and educational attainment, inform the application of educational stability research findings to the implementation of ESSA’s foster care provisions, and develop and maintain high-quality data that can be easily accessed and used.

Achievement and educational attainment

Until recently, Colorado students in foster care were not identified in education data sets, and child welfare agencies did not always know how the youth in their care were faring in school. The Colorado partnership linked child welfare and education data from 2008 forward and found that across school years, grade levels, and subject areas, there is an academic achievement gap of at least 20 percentage points between students in foster care and their peers (see chart from the partnership website below).

The most critical subject area was mathematics, where the proportion of students scoring in the lowest proficiency category increased with each grade level. The data also revealed that less than one in three Colorado students who experience foster care graduate with their class.


Source: The Colorado Study of Students in Foster Care (http://www.unco.edu/cebs/foster-care-research/needs-assessment-data/academic-achievement/)


Like many states, Colorado has a long way to go toward closing academic achievement gaps for students in foster care, but with the availability of better data, there is a growing interest in the educational success of these students statewide.  

Educational Stability

Educational stability provisions, such as the ones in ESSA, are designed to reduce barriers to students’ progress, such as unnecessary school moves, gaps in enrollment, and delays in the transfer of records. To estimate how much implementation of these provisions might help improve educational stability for students in foster care, we used child welfare placement dates and school move dates to determine the proportion of school moves associated with changes in child welfare placements. A five-year analysis of school moves before, during, and after foster care placements revealed that the educational stability provisions in the ESSA would apply to two-thirds of the school moves Colorado students experienced.

To fully realize this policy opportunity, we began by generating heat maps on where foster student transfers occur (an example is pictured to the right). These geographical data are being used by Colorado Department of Education and Colorado Department of Human Services to prioritize relationship-building among specific local education agencies and child welfare agencies. Regional meetings are being held to strengthen local collaboration in implementing ESSA’s mandates regarding educational stability and transportation plans.

We also summarized the frequency of school moves by the type of child welfare placement change (e.g., entry into care, transitions among different types of out-of-home placements). We found that nearly one-third of Colorado students who enter foster care also move schools at the same time. This finding can help child welfare and education agencies anticipate the need for short-term transportation solutions and develop procedures for quickly convening stakeholders to determine if a school move is in a child’s best interest.

Accessible and Usable Data

A key communication strategy of the Colorado partnership is to make the descriptive data and research findings accessible and actionable on our project website. The data and findings are organized with different audiences in mind, so that advocates, practitioners, grant writers, and policy makers can use this information for their own distinct purposes. 

The website includes infographics that provide an overview of the data and recommendations on how to close gaps; dynamic visualizations that allow users to explore the data in-depth; and reports that inform conversations and decisions about how to best serve students in foster care.

In our final year of this IES RPP grant, we will continue to identify opportunities to apply our research to inform the development of quality transportation plans and local agreements. We also will study how the interplay between the child welfare placement changes relates to academic progress and academic growth.

 

A New Research Spotlight on Educating Highly Mobile Students

Across America, schools struggle with addressing the academic and social needs of students who are homeless, in foster care, from migrant backgrounds, or military-dependent. These students typically change residences and/or schools frequently (often multiple times within a given school year) making it difficult for them to succeed academically.  

This year, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is shining a research spotlight on improving the education outcomes of highly mobile K-12 students through a new special topic within its Education Research grants program. The new Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students special topic invites research on:

  • support services that reduce barriers that highly mobile students typically face;
  • policies that allow highly mobile students to receive credit for full or partial coursework completed while attending their previous schools;
  • policies that facilitate the transfer of student records across jurisdictions, and help highly mobile students navigate standards, course, and graduation requirements that change from state to state;
  • policies and programs that address the academic, physical, psychological, and social needs of highly mobile students who may have experienced deprivation or trauma; and
  • state and local implementation of services for highly mobile students that are required by federal law or are provided through federally funded programs or interstate agreements.  

Through this special topic, IES also encourages studies that create or utilize shared/integrated data systems (such as records exchanges) to identify and track highly mobile students and pinpoint factors that could potentially be used to improve these students' outcomes. 

(Dr. Jill Biden, pictured above, mentioned this new special topic area in her remarks at the American Educational Research Association's annual conference as part of her focus on military families.)

Additional Opportunities for Research on Highly Mobile Students

Researchers who are interested in studying highly mobile pre-K students are invited to apply through to the Early Learning Programs and Policies topic. Similarly, researchers who are interested increasing highly mobile students’ access to, persistence in, progress through, and completion of postsecondary education are invited to apply through the Postsecondary and Adult Education Research topic. 

IES also encourages researchers to partner with local school districts or state education agencies to carry out initial research on highly mobile students and develop a plan for future research. This can be done through the Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research topic.

For more information about funding opportunities for research on highly mobile students, please visit the IES website or contact Katina Stapleton.

For examples of previously funded research on highly mobile students, see  Promoting Executive Function to Enhance Learning in Homeless/Highly Mobile Children, Developing a Model for Delivering School-Based Mentoring to Students in Military Families, and Students in Foster Care: The Relationship between Mobility and Educational Outcomes.

Written by Katina Stapleton, Education Research Analyst, NCER; Program Officer, Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students

Photo of Dr. Biden courtesy of AERA