Active-Duty Military Families and School Supports


Not all military-connected students—those who have at least one parent/guardian on active (full-time) duty in the U.S. military—have parents who are deployed into combat, but all military students move. This multi-year research study is a response to a call from the Institute of Education Sciences (U.S. Department of Education) to better understand how schools can be more responsive to the needs and experiences of highly mobile students.

Military-connected students have family lives typified by transition and mobility. Whether separations and moves are due to parent deployment, permanent changes of station (PCS), or lengthy temporary duty assignments, change is constant in the lives of military-connected 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.


The project has three primary goals:

  1. to explore the types of school supports accessed by elementary-school-aged military students and their parents
  2. to examine whether accessing school supports is associated with military students feeling more connected to their school
  3. to examine whether school connectedness can buffer students from the potential negative effects of heightened mobility on educational outcomes


Professor Renée Spencer
Boston University

Professor Tim Cavell
University of Arkansas

Professor Amy Slep
New York University

Carla Herrera
Herrera Consulting Group

Janet Heubach
MENTOR Washington

Debby Gaffney
Consultant and School District Liaison

PartnerNorth Thurston Public Schools, Lacey, Washington.


Over a 2-year period, we will recruit 650 students (325/year) in grades 3 and 5 (and their parents) to participate in a longitudinal, survey-based study that examines a) their experiences with family moves, b) their accessing of school supports, and c) students’ academic and social-behavioral adjustment. A subsample of 40 families (and students’ teachers) will be invited to participate in more in-depth, qualitative interviews addressing these same topics.


Cohort 1:

Spring 2019 Fall 2019 Winter 2019 Spring 2020
Time 1 Survey Time 2 Survey Qualitative Family Interviews Time 3 Survey

Cohort 2:

Spring 2020 Fall 2020 Winter 2020 Spring 202
Time 1 Survey Time 2 Survey Qualitative Family Interviews Time 3 Survey


The research team will measure student mobility, family strain, school supports, school connectedness, and educational outcomes (academic and social-behavioral). The team will develop new self-report measures of mobility and school supports for this study. Family strain, parental health, school connectedness, and student social-behavioral functioning will be assessed using existing, published measures. Data on student grades, attendance, and standardized tests (English, Language Arts, Math) will be obtained from the NTPS. Researchers will continue to collect these data on students who transfer from the NTPS to other school districts. To ensure comparability across different school districts (within or outside the state of Washington), all student test scores will be standardized relative to the state average.

Related projects

Military Student Mentoring @ University of Arkansas

Learn more

Visit the Institute of Education Sciences website here.