How to Find the Best School Solution for Your Military Kids
1) What to choose: public, private, or homeschool education?
It's a tough question, and many parents struggle to find the right answer. Since the decision is unique to each military family, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Parents' main concerns usually center around several topics while evaluating schools in their next city: quality of education, financial impact, continuity, and the school's alignment with the family’s values.
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Public vs. Private Schools
Focusing on your child’s strengths and weakness is a good place to start assessing what type of education is best for them. Public schools have many positive aspects, but it's not uncommon to find higher student to teacher ratios than in private schools. A private education usually offers more one-on-one time spent with the student. This dedicated time could be very beneficial to your child, but some children don’t require as much direct attention.
Affordability also affects which private schools are viable options for your family. Although some are cost effective and provide quality instruction, small private schools may not be able to provide the educational benefits such as special education services or after school activities that a well funded, large public school system can.
(Pssst...did you know MilitaryByOwner has a Pinterest board dedicated to military kids?)
Schedule multiple tours of public and private schools to meet the principal, guidance counselors, and teachers. This is the first step for matching a child with the best education choices. Face to face meetings might not be in the travel budget, but phone calls give parents a good opportunity to ask questions.
Meeting families whose children attend these schools is also very enlightening. Reach out into your new community to find more details that might be missed during your interviews. They will likely be able to offer the answers to questions you forgot to ask the school administration regarding transportation and before and after school care (or anything else!). Their advice could make your decision much simpler.
Homeschooling Help for Military Families
MilitaryByOwner’s Content Editor, Jen McDonald, shares 20 years of personal experience in Why Homeschooling Can Be a Good Fit for Military Families. Ultimately, her spouse’s unpredictable moving schedule led them to decide homeschooling was the best choice for their four children. As military families, you may also find the predictability of learning at home beats private or public education.
Some families find the flexibility of homeschooling is the best way to marry time well spent with the service member. If frequent deployments and/or TDY trips are a part of your family’s military normal, homeschooling could take the pressure off to spend as much time with mom or dad as possible within the parameters of a traditional public school calendar.
If you're considering homeschooling, check out the nearest military base to network with other families. Established parent-teachers will be eager to share their advice and sources of information. As the homeschool industry continues to grow, more and more choices are available for kids of all grade levels. Finding a curriculum suited to your child is easier than ever.
These are some resources Jen recommends to help make the decision whether or not to homeschool.
- Time 4 Learning’s Military Homeschool Network
- Military Spouse Homeschooling
- Homeschooling and Military Life: A Natural Fit
2) How do I search for schools?
If you’ve made the decision to send the kids out of the house for schooling, the next step is to choose a school that meets the majority of your standards. The techniques for narrowing down choices are the same for both public and private schools, but it's common to find public schools have much more information online. Investigating a private school could take a little more effort, because not all of their stats are required to be reported.
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As parents, it's a normal instinct to want to find the “best” school for your kids. But, today, best means so much more than earning the highest test scores. Many school data aggregators use high test scores as a key component for their overall grade system, but test scores do not make up the whole face of the school. There are amazing schools out there that only have “good” test scores, but have so much more in the way of a well-rounded education. These days, it's up to parents to dig into multiple sources to truly reveal which characteristics are most important to your family.
It's becoming more and more common for parents to start with the department of education for the state they’ll be moving. There, many factors, not just scores, are published. Class sizes, money spent per pupil, behavior stats, demographics, and much more is available. The same is true for the local system. Spend time there unearthing details about each potential school for specifics such as after school clubs, special education options, and the education levels of instructors.
Online opinions are prolific when it comes time to rank or rate school experiences. Well-intended and truthful reviews can be overrun by specific negative instances or exaggerated good experiences. It's certainly tricky to decipher the level of accuracy to each entry. If possible, start with local Facebook and neighborhood groups or even join a PTA meeting to see if you can find common themes regarding the school, whether positive or negative.
It's best to take the following resources and use them collectively. No one source is the ticket to a perfect education.
School Liaison Officers (SLO) are hit or miss, depending on the base, but they are worth checking into because they are the official link for military families to connect with local schools, both public and private. Although they cannot offer opinions, they know how the programs operate and can assist parents with topics such as credit transfers, applications for gifted programs, and connections with other military family resources in the area.
SLOs should also be knowledgeable and helpful in navigating the Military Interstate Children's Compact (MIC3), which affords military students the opportunity achieve smooth transitions as they PCS from base to base. Not all states are completely versed in the compact, so it is helpful for the SLO to work on your child’s behalf if problems occur. (Are you planning for a mid-year move? Then take a look at this advice for military families with school-aged children.)
3) How do I prepare the documentation needed to enter school?
One of the many challenges that military families who change schools often face is adapting to the new rules and procedures of each state and school district. The variation on what documentation is needed is diverse and specific. If you take into consideration that each child likely has their own set of circumstances (in education, medical, or both), the paperwork piles up quickly.
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It's imperative for parents to communicate directly with their incoming school often, and well ahead of arrival. There are many factors that are time sensitive, such as vaccinations required to enter 6th grade or testing needed for acceptance into the after school program. Always document advice and instructions that administrators offer.
Use this PCS school checklist to gather the documentation your new school needs:
- Copies of previous vaccination records
- Names and phone numbers of doctors
- Emergency contact information
- Medical directives and alerts including allergy requirements
- Academic histories: report cards, IEPs, 504 plans, test results, previous teacher’s recommendations.
Parents, take note; it's advantageous to be aware of the rights military children have when it comes to their education. The Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) and MIC3 are great places to start reading. Both offer plenty of guidance to families who need help finding their way through any special education circumstances. For further information on how to protect and preserve your children’s educational rights consult:
- Military OneSource Special Needs
- Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
- U.S. Department of Education’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
There are many excellent resources to assist parents in finding the best school and creating a seamless transition. Tailoring those resources to your child’s needs, however, becomes a challenge since support is so widespread over many local, federal, and private agencies.
Parents often find that tapping into one or two resources reveals opportunities previously unknown. Advocacy is hard work! Give your family as much as time as possible to research and prepare for the next school transition. The prep work alleviates some of the anxiety that comes from the “How Do I?” unknowns.