K-12 Data Gaps

The Idea

Track how military-connected children are doing in school in terms of attendance, behavior, achievement, and graduation rates.

The Issue

With the actions of the Base Closing and Realignment Commission (BRAC), many military facilities have been closed or combined, reducing the number of schools on military bases. Most remaining military base schools are overseas and in a handful of Southern states.

In addition, more than two-thirds of active duty military families live in civilian communities, and nearly one million of their children attend schools in those communities. Finally, about 800,000 (or roughly 95 percent) of Reserve and Guard troops live outside of military facilities. Thus only a small percentage of military-connected students attend Department of Defense-run schools.

Yet, there is no reliable, consistent data system that collects information about off-base military children. This lack of information translates to a lack of awareness, and military children’s problems in school too often go unnoticed. If school districts were to report quantitative data on military children’s grades, graduation rates, behavioral issues, and transfer issues, researchers could better understand, if or how, the schools they attend are succeeding. Data on military-connected children could also generate best practices, showing which programs are effective in supporting military children and should be replicated.

Finally, tracking military student progress could help evaluate the effectiveness of federal Impact Aid grant program, which subsidizes school districts with high proportions of military students.

What States are Doing


Michigan education officials, who wanted to better support military children, wanted answers to the following questions:

  • What is the most basic information about military-connected students, such as their attendance patterns, that may be important indicators of their well-being?
  • What are the school completion/graduation rates for military children?
  • What special programs or school alternatives, such as special education, do military-connected students participate in? And how are they doing over time?
  • How do repeated deployments affect the performance of children in school?
    What are the gaps in current school programs, resources and curricula?
  • What campus and school district practices are worthy of being replicated?
  • What patterns indicate that military children are likely to be college, workplace and life ready?
  • How are military children doing in school 10 years into a continuing conflict, considering that school is the best predictor of future success?

State officials noted that combat operations can impact families for a generation after the conclusion of military service, making it critical that data collection began immediately.

School districts were asked to voluntarily identify and submit names of school-aged military children from March through June 2011; participating districts assigned a Unique Identification Code (UIC) to each military child to allow the state to longitudinally track that child in key areas, including attendance, grades and test scores. Families were asked, but not required, to identify their children as military-connected.

Each child identified as military-connected received a unique identification code (UIC) so the state Department of Education could track their long-term educational performance; thus, over time, these UICs will allow for Michigan’s questions about military-student performance to be answered.

Michigan Department of Education (MDE) collected data using their electronic grants systems, MEGS+. Each district submitted a file in the system, from which MDE created a master list. The Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI) created the formatted spreadsheet and will help with data analysis.

Of the 794 eligible local educational authorities (LEAs) 204 had submitted responses, and 46 more had initiated reports as of July 2011. (A valid response could either be a list of students or verification that the district has no military connected students.)

Mike Flanagan, Michigan State Superintendent of Public Instruction, noted that the majority of families in his state are affiliated with the National Guard, and, as such, their children can be affected both before and after their activation period. Thus the Michigan Department of Education used a broad definition of “military-connected” so that the process would provide information not only about children whose parents are on active duty or currently activated for deployment, but also how many children have been affected by past deployments.



While many important research questions will not be answered until years of data are collected and analyzed, Michigan officials shared some initial lessons that may be useful to other states.

  • Because military status, unlike race or ethnicity, changes over time, numbers are likely to be an estimate.
  • A more focused collection of data on military-connected children would identify children whose parents’ military service is, or was, only in combat zones.
  • While the study focused only on students with military parents, there remains some discussion over whether having a deployed sibling should designate a family as a military-connected family.
  • The definition of military-connected should be further refined and based on a national definition, ideally, one that gives broad flexibility in identifying military-connected children.
    The effects of deployment on military-connected children can extend beyond a parent or guardian’s actual time in the service. Support for these children should therefore not be limited to specific time periods; nor should identification.
  • Collection should occur at least once a year, preferably in the beginning of the year, to increase teacher awareness of military students in their classrooms.
  • States such as Michigan, which have large National Guard populations, are likely to see cases of isolated military-connected children affected by deployments.
  • Any branch of the Armed Forces that collects data cannot necessarily share that data with school systems because of privacy concerns, which means that collaboration may be limited. Similarly, response rates may be low in these instances.
  • The U.S. Department of Education should consider funding federally mandated data collection.
  • Lacking a federal mandate, states will have difficulties making any data collection mandatory.

What the Federal Government is Doing

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education proposed that, as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, children of military families would become a “reportable subgroup.” This means that school districts across the country would survey and track military children to identify progress. States would be given two to three years time to adjust their data collection methods, then would be required to report their data to The National Center for Education Statistics.

NCES would publish biannual reports on the educational outcomes and progress of K-12 military-connected students in the nation’s public schools which includes data related to high school completion, postsecondary readiness, and postsecondary transitions.

Additionally, the proposed legislation directed the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement to develop grants that share models for improving military children’s education outcomes and reducing barriers for military-connected and other highly mobile students.