Faculty News

Three Questions: Lora Cohen-Vogel talks with Jill Biden about special challenges faced by military children

In April, Lora Cohen-Vogel, Robena and Walter E. Hussman, Jr. Chair of Policy and Education Reform, went to Washington, D.C. to assume her elected position on the Executive Council of the 25,000-member American Educational Research Association (AERA).

In that capacity, Cohen-Vogel met with Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden. Jill Biden is a lifelong educator and a proud military mom. In her capacity as second lady, Biden works to bring attention to the sacrifices made by military families, while continuing to teach as a full-time English professor at a community college in Northern Virginia.

What did you discuss with Dr. Jill Biden?

We talked about the special challenges faced by the children of active duty military parents, challenges that may continue long after their parent or parents return home. The fears and stressors these young students face as the result of parental deployments are often compounded by frequent moves. On average, military children attend six to nine schools before graduating from high school. Frequent school to school transitions are often difficult for children and can affect their academic outcomes and social-emotional well-being.

What's being done?

Dr. Biden urged all of us in the education research community to include military children in our new and ongoing research efforts. Doing so will be somewhat easier as the result of the “Every Student Succeeds Act” signed into law by President Obama late last year. In it is a requirement for the first time that schools include a military student identifier in their federal reporting. These data will help us to examine whether students from military families are doing well, keeping pace with or falling behind other students.

In addition, the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, is competing a new special topics program within its Education Research grants program for 2017. The new Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students program invites researchers to submit proposals on improving the education outcomes of highly mobile K-12 students, including military-connected children. I hope that educational researchers at UNC and around the state will apply as North Carolina is home to Fort Bragg, the largest U.S. Army base in the U.S. in terms of population, and six other bases representing various branches of the armed services.

What else is needed?

In a speech to the AERA attendees in Washington, Dr. Biden also urged more focus on increasing awareness for teachers, guidance counselors, and educational leaders in training. She pointed to some of the transformative work that colleges of education have embarked on through Operation Educate the Educators to ensure teachers are prepared to meet the needs of military-connected students, and encouraged more teacher preparation programs join the partnership to expand the effort’s reach.