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Shelton Says Educators Contribute to Readiness, National Security

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

PALM HARBOR, Fla., July 13, 2001 – Raising children is tough enough, but moving their families around every two or three years makes the job even more demanding for their parents and school teachers, the nation's top military officer said here July 13.

"Based on the difficulties that frequent transfers pose on the children, you might expect their performance to be below par," Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the Military Child Education Coalition annual conference. "To the contrary, the performance of our children has been outstanding."

Shelton cited findings by the Wall Street Journal that stateside military bases ranked second only to Connecticut among 39 states and jurisdictions in a 1998 national eighth grade writing exam and that 80 percent of DoD school graduates go to college compared to the national average of 67 percent.

The chairman said DoD schools work so well for several reasons. The first is the dedicated professionals who run them and who inspire students to do their best.

"If you were asking about a military unit, we'd say it's got good leadership and good command climate. You help provide that leadership and set that command climate," Shelton told the group of more than 200 educators, coalition members and parents.

The second reason, he said, is the "body of concerned parents of our military children -- service members and their spouses whose own experiences have taught them the value a strong education and how that plays in success."

The third reason, and the ace in the hole, is a culture that values education and training for both professional development and for the growth of families, he said.

"As leaders in the military, we have a wealth of tools available to us to help our troops and also to allow them to become better parents," the chairman said. "I know leaders who work closely with local school administrators to make sure that they don't plan major training events on top of major school functions.

"I know leaders who have policies dictating that, on days when parent-teacher conferences are scheduled, the service member-parent's place of duty is at his or her child's school," he said.

Senior leadership places the education of military children near the top of any quality of life agenda, he emphasized. Shelton said education was hotly discussed July 11 in a Pentagon meeting of the secretary of defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff and service secretaries.

"The nation needs to provide its full support to the educational needs of our military families, who will, in turn, provide their full support to our men and women in uniform," he said. "If we succeed in this effort, we'll be able to sustain today's quality force as well as to recruit the force of the future, which is another concern that all of us in uniform have today."

Shelton noted 52 percent of today's enlisted personnel and 71 percent of officers are married. Almost half of all service members, 46 percent, have children -- and 39 percent of those children are age 6 or younger.

So taking care of families -- from providing proper housing and healthcare to meeting children's educational needs -- is a top priority and vital to the readiness of America's military, he said.

Men and women whose families are cared for and whose children are settled in school, are more focused and more productive than those who are distracted by problems at home, the chairman noted.

"You may have never thought of yourself in this light as professional educators, but it's the efforts of MCEC that provide the kind of light on this subject that has been vitally needed for such a long time," Shelton said. "What you do contributes directly to the readiness of our armed forces and, consequently, to the security of this nation."

Shelton said there is no more important task in support of military families than to provide children with an exceptional education. The Military Child Education Coalition, he noted, has become a key partner in this effort with school districts, DoD Education Activity and parents.

"Few areas are more important than the transition process, which adds to the stress for military families," he noted. "I applaud the effort that MCEC is doing in attempting to improve the transition of our military children throughout our armed forces around the world."

As educational reform and higher standards are debated across the nation, Shelton said, he's concerned about military children experiencing new barriers as they advance.

"We have to make sure that as we improve our educational standards, we keep in mind that they have to accommodate the forces that have to transition," he said.

The college admissions process is becoming increasingly competitive with new factors playing a key role in the way selections are made. These factors include state competency exams, new graduation requirements, grade promotion requirements and individual school tests, Shelton noted.

"The effort to improve the quality of education is also placing tough and new demands on students that transfer frequently," he said. "Moreover, disparate grading systems, school curricula, honors programs and course requirements further impede a student's ability to adjust to a new and changing environment."

Shelton said the superintendent of schools for a district that includes several large military bases recently observed, "Sometimes, rules and regulations and bureaucracy get in the way. We don't always do the right thing."

"We owe it to our children to do the right thing," the chairman said. "They're already facing enough adversity just being the children of military members -- frequent moves, separation, the stress of knowing that a parent is being deployed to a combat zone. We need to get it right. We need to get excited. We need to get energized to look for the impediments that they face to cope with this type of lifestyle, a lifestyle that has been brought on by their parent's decision to serve our nation.

"At the same time their parents are serving their nation, the kids are trying to be all they can be and our system should be something that accommodates them," Shelton said.

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