School Survey Could Impact Basing Decisions

The results of a survey on the performance of local schools serving military children will impact future Army force restructuring decisions, said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno.

"I get governors and I get congressmen asking all the time what they can do for me, and I'm going to tell them what they can do for me," Odierno said. "If they want to keep the military in their communities they better start paying attention to the schools that are outside and inside our installations. Because as we evaluate, as we make decisions on future force structure, that will be one of the criteria."

The evaluation, launched in October, will gather publicly available data on local school performance and compare it against state and national standards, said Lt. Col. Kathleen Turner, a spokesperson for Odierno. The results will be used to "start conversations" with state and local officials, she said.

Because the study is in its early stages, the schools that will be included and the specific type of data that will be collected have not been identified, Turner said. The assessments will likely begin with schools officials know to be well populated with military children, she said.

School performance data has factored into force restructuring before, said Mary Keller, an education advocate with the Military Child Education Coalition which works with community based schools to better serve military children.

During the 2005 round of Base Realignment and Closures school quality was one of the "quality of life" questions officials reviewed. But the question was difficult to answer because of a lack of data, Keller said.

"There really wasn't a good way for people to respond to that," she said. "And it was a tiny, tiny question inside all the data captures that they did."

With another BRAC round potentially on the table as the Defense Department looks pares down its infrastructure to match end strength reductions, thorough school data could be invaluable to military kids' quality of life, she said.

Odierno said he plans to use the data to put pressure on state officials to improve the school systems. "We  can start putting pressure on them to do what's right for our young people … I'm worried about military kids in their states, and that's my constituency and that's who we want to make sure we fight for," he said. "What we can do is focus on making sure we're putting pressure on those responsible for providing the appropriate level of education for our young people and we are continuing to do that."

Odierno's comments were made in late October at the annual Association of the United States Army conference.

The Army currently works with schools districts through their school liaison program to help officials assist kids with military life challenges, such as transition after a permanent change of station (PCS) move, Turner said. Currently, the Army has 93 school liaison officers working with 3,000 schools in 374 school districts, she said.

About 80 percent of military connected children with an active duty parent attend a locally run school, Keller said.

Keller said local officials should not feel put on the spot by the assessment, since it will be examining publicly available data. She said that Odierno is paying attention to childhood education should be a signal to other Army leaders.

"I think it’s very affirming that a senior leader with his influence is so caring and attuned that schools matter and it matters to the force," she said. "When the chief of staff of the Army says 'I care about education,' all of the sudden other people inside of the services are saying 'this matters to the chief of staff so it should matter to us too.'"

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