Information from Jennifer Barnhill at Partners in PROMISE and the original article Why Another Survey? Partners in PROMISE’s 2021 Military Special Education Survey and Official Press Release
Partners in PROMISE was founded because we knew how powerful telling our personal stories would be. We are a storytelling organization, but we also want to do the right thing and validate the educational challenges that our military families with children with special needs face.Michelle Norman, Founder and Executive Director of Partners in PROMISE
What is Partners in PROMISE?
Partners in PROMISE was founded in January 2020 by four mothers to Protect the Rights Of Military children In Special Education (PROMISE). Focusing on a strategy of educating and advocacy, Partners in PROMISE is the link between special needs families, established military service organizations, the Department of Defense, and legislators, working towards collaborative solutions to complex problems.
Issue: Special Education Families Are Invisible
There may be a large and rising number of families that are invisible because they are neither tabulated nor targeted in family readiness efforts.(Research Facilitation Laboratory. 2018)
The military lifestyle creates many challenges with providing consistency in education for servicemember children. These challenges are exponentially more difficult for military families with children with special needs. “Moves made at any point between kindergarten and third grade similarly had greater impact for children receiving special education services, children whose first language is not English, and children from low-SES families…while a single move had no impact, two or more moves were associated with somewhat lower achievement in third grade—and again the effects were stronger for some children, such as those receiving special education services.” ii According to the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, As a result of these struggles most civilian families who have children with special needs move less than those who do not (2010).
Although there are umbrella protections under federal and state laws, many military families are reporting that school districts are not providing the minimum support and services mandated by law.
Taking Action: Research Question and Surveys
Given this lack of information on military children in special education and the desire to improve the Exceptional Family Member Program Partners in PROMISE’s primary focus is to answer the following research question:
To what degree are military families with children who have special needs facing difficulties accessing a “free and appropriate public education” due to the military lifestyle?
- How many of these families are enrolled in the EFM program?
- To what degree does the EFMP alleviate the difficulties military families face accessing a “free and appropriate public education”?
- How does the EFMP support military families’ ability to receive a “free and appropriate public education”?
For over a decade, families have been frustrated over the lack of oversight on special education for their children.[ii] Although the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) was introduced by the Army in 1979[iii], military families with special needs have been underrepresented in military surveying. The last in depth survey to examine EFMP effectiveness was conducted by GAO in 2012. Based on the information collected we know that:
- The Exceptional Family Member Program is not standardized by location or service branch.
- There is little, to no program oversight or accountability by DoD’s Office of Special Needs.
- There is little data collected on the program.
These facts have not changed over the past eight years according to the evidence presented in a 2018 GAO study[iv]. Although the Department of Education (DoE) serves as the regulatory agency for all public-school systems, they have no effective way to enforce their legal decisions, as most schools are responsible for defining, rating and reviewing their own performance metrics and are not required to report military-specific education outcomes to the DoE.
Because we are all about collaborations, we partnered with Blue Star Families, the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, the University of Alabama and other special education experts in designing and drafting the survey. And we are thrilled to see how the collective voices of our military special education community can be translated into actionable data.
Data that our legislators and military leaders can use to help improve programming and legal protections for our families. Our 2020 survey did just that, and we saw our solutions included in both the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (aka the document that sets DoD’s annual budget and agenda). And if the 2020 survey, a simple google form drafted by four moms, could make such a difference we can’t begin to guess what 2021’s results will hold.
This year we are focused on more than just telling stories, we are focused on data and the story that data can tell. This survey is a deep dive into many areas, from PCSing, to individual school experiences, to how much you’ve paid out of pocket for supplemental services. We cover it all. We will release our findings in early 2021, hence the title of the survey. (And let’s be honest, is 2020 over yet!?)
This survey is a deep dive into many areas, from PCSing, to individual school experiences, to how much you’ve paid out of pocket for supplemental services. We cover it all.Jennifer Barnhill
Partner in PROMISE have the opportunity to make positive changes in the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). For years, EFMP issues were difficult to address because the experiences of participants remained largely unstudied. Last year, four military mothers of children with special needs created the 2020 Special Education Survey.
Based on your responses, they formed Partners in PROMISE, a grassroots organization focused on Protecting the Rights Of Military children In Special Education through educating and advising the legislative agendas of military service organizations, Department of Defense and public officials.
But in order for all this to make a difference we need to hear from you, our military special needs community. The survey that will take roughly 15-minutes to complete can be taken anonymously. And for those who are comfortable sharing their email addresses will be entered in one of 5 one-on-one consultation sessions with Partner in PROMISE co-founder and special education attorney, Grace Kim.
For any questions about this survey please contact Partners in PROMISE: firstname.lastname@example.org
[ii] Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, Cornell University and Beach Center on Disability, The University of Kansas. 2013. “Department of Defense Exceptional Family Member Program Benchmark Study.” September 2013. https://download.militaryonesource.mil/12038/MOS/ResourceGuides/EFMP-Benchmark.pdf
[iv] MILITARY PERSONNEL – DOD Should Improve Its Oversight of the Exceptional Family Member Program.” U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). May 2018. GAO-18-348. https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/691647.pdf