Long and frequent tours of duty by Army parents can affect their children’s academic achievement, according to a study commissioned by the Army from the RAND Corp.’s Arroyo Center.
The study found that elementary and middle school children whose parents have deployed 19 months or more since 2001 have modestly lower – and statistically different – achievement scores compared with those who’ve gone through fewer months of parental deployment or none at all.
The study, published in 2011, was conducted using data involving more than 44,000 students from North Carolina and Washington state. Researchers also interviewed teachers and school counselors to learn how multiple deployments are affecting Army kids.
Washington and North Carolina were chosen for the study because of the presence of two large military installations – Joint Base Lewis-McChord here and Fort Bragg in North Carolina. In addition to studying the children of active-duty soldiers, the study looked at data for the school-aged children of reservists and members of the National Guard in both states.
The single biggest factor that appeared to affect kids’ test performance was the total months of deployment.
“The cumulative effect of parental absence mattered more than how many deployments,” said researcher Anita Chandra, one of the study authors and co-director of the behavioral and social sciences department at RAND in Washington, D.C.
The finding held across states and academic subjects. A soldier’s rank or gender didn’t matter, nor did the gender of the child, researchers said.
Chandra said it didn’t matter whether soldiers deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, or whether they were in combat or combat support positions.
“It was always trumped by mere absence,” she said. “What matters to kids is the absence issue.”
At JBLM, it’s not hard to find soldiers who have far exceeded or even doubled the 19-month total deployment threshold used in the study.
The base’s original Stryker brigade, for instance, completed three combat tours totaling 39 months in the last decade, not including its current Afghanistan deployment of nine to 12 months. That doesn’t include several weeks of stateside training that took soldiers away from their families prior to each deployment.
The researchers point out that test scores aren’t a complete measure of academic success. And they weren’t able to follow children over long periods of time to see whether the relationship between deployment and test scores persists.
They also said that while the relationship was measurable for elementary and middle school students, it was not statistically significant among high school students.
Teachers and school counselors interviewed for the study reported that while some families cope well with deployment, others struggle with issues such as homework completion. School attendance can suffer when the deployed parent comes home on leave, or if a family moves during deployment to be closer to grandparents or other family support.
Educators said academic performance can fall by the wayside for some families who are more concerned with the overall stress of deployment.
Chandra hopes this study will promote more research on military kids.
“We have a tendency to focus on a critical issue and then forget about it,” she said. “It’s important to follow these kids. Some effects may persist. Some may not.”firstname.lastname@example.org