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Army chief calls for review of all public schools near posts

Oct. 31, 2013 - 11:24AM   |  
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The Army is evaluating the performance of public schools near its installations and will use the information to “put pressure” on education officials to make improvements where needed, said Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno.

“We have to identify those schools that are under-performing, whether it be elementary schools, middle schools or high schools,” Odierno said at a recent family forum at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting. “I’ve actually asked for an evaluation of every school outside of every Army installation.”

Odierno said governors and lawmakers often ask him how they can help. “I’m going to tell them what they can do for me: If they want to keep the military in their communities, they’d better start paying attention to the schools that are outside and inside our installations. Because as we evaluate and as we make decisions on future force structure that will be one of the criteria.

“The assessments are important so we can start putting pressure on them to do what’s right for our young people. They should be doing it for all the young kids in their state, but I’m worried about the military kids. … What we can do is focus on making sure we are putting pressure on those responsible for providing the appropriate level of education for our young people.”

The quality of schools is one of the most important factors for families in choosing where to live when they move to an installation, and some families have tried to avoid certain duty stations because of concerns about their children’s education.

The Military Child Education Coalition “applauds General Odierno’s attention and interest in the education of the children within Army families,” said Michael Gravens, a spokesman for MCEC, which has provided programs for educators, children and parents for more than 15 years to help military children affected by mobility, family separation and transition and wartime deployments.

For the Army chief of staff to seek out “this information on the macro level is impressive,” Gravens said. “We believe that an assessment as [Odierno] describes will prove to be very interesting and may indeed paint a picture highlighting the need for such an assessment at a DoD level.”

The evaluation is in its infancy, according to Army officials, and they haven’t yet decided which schools will be included, or what data they will collect.

But they have decided not to specifically assess school quality. “Rather, the Army will collect school performance data from publicly available national, state and district sources. The intent is to use this data to identify how schools are performing based on their own state standards and national benchmarks,” said Bill Bradner, a spokesman for Army Installation Management Command.

MCEC and the Army, however, note that there are caveats and considerations with such an assessment. “There is no universal definition of school quality and there are many factors to consider when assessing school quality,” Bradner said, adding that families also have different views and priorities about their children’s education.

There are no national standards that can be applied in a cookie-cutter format to local districts or schools, MCEC’s Gravens said. District and school indicators change from year to year, so “it will require constant diligence to make meaningful decisions over the long term. “

While this is an Army initiative, the Department of Defense Education Activity has provided information and consultation, said Kathy Facon, chief of DoDEA’s educational partnership and outreach program.

DoDEA operates 191 schools serving more than 86,000 students around the world and in seven states.

She said the Army is also looking at DoDEA schools that serve its garrisons. But the majority of the 1 million school age children in military families attend public schools. Since 2008, DoDEA has awarded about $270 million in grants to 178 public school districts affecting about 320,000 military-connected students in 1,500 schools, Facon said, and they also serve as a resource for school districts on a variety of education issues and topics related to military children.

One example of the positive results was in the increased Advanced Placement courses at three high schools in Hawaii with large numbers of military children. Scores of those three high schools counted for 82 percent of the state’s gains in AP math and science, she said.

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