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General Says Military Must Ensure 'No Child is Left Behind'

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5, 2002 – Just as President Bush is pushing for the nation to ensure 'no child is left behind,' the armed forces must guarantee that no military child is left behind, Air Force Gen. John Hopper said.

Hopper was speaking at the fourth-annual Military Child Education Coalition Conference, which was held In San Antonio, Texas, July 31 to Aug. 2.

The general said President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 focuses on increased accountability, more choice for parents and students, greater flexibility for states, districts and schools, and putting reading first. "These initiatives offer a great deal of promise in providing for the education of our children," Hopper said. "However, we need to look closely to determine where military children are most affected and ensure no military child is left behind."

Hopper is the vice commander of the San Antonio-based Air Education and Training Command. AETC recruits, trains and educates more than 370,000 people annually.

Pointing out that most military families can't afford to send their children to private schools, Hopper said schools in high-density military areas have to produce and they need help. The general said he sent his son to a private school because the schools near the base where he was assigned were substandard. He noted that school system's problems weren't the fault of the teachers, counselors and administrators.

He also said he isn't proud of his decision because he had many junior service members that couldn't afford to send their children to private schools. "That's one of the things your coalition is working to improve," he told the audience of more than 350 principals, teachers, counselors, administrators, service members and parents.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools have greater flexibility in spending to improve performance. "We'll need to watch to ensure the needs of military children are considered," Hopper said. "We must also put maximum efforts into determining deficiencies and helping our children learn to read. Reading is the cornerstone of learning, and we can't let our children fall behind."

Military parents today are deployed more often and for longer periods of time, the general said. He noted an Aug. 1 announcement by the Air Force chief of staff that some people would be deployed for extended period of time, longer than they were promised several months ago.

"The reason for that is an important one, and it's important to make it known to the force," Hopper said. "But that doesn't lessen the impact on those children that were expecting dads or moms home to take them to the first day of school."

Hopper has a first-hand understanding of these issues. He has two children himself, and his family has moved 18 times during his career. He noted such absences have a significant and long-lasting impact on children's development and emotional well-being. "In the Air Force, we've charged our family support centers network to address the needs of families during deployments," he said. The Air Force has also created a position called 'readiness NCO.'

"These readiness NCOs are dedicated to bridging the gap between a stressful situation at home and the child's welfare and performance at school," Hopper explained. "As an Air Force, we've formed partnerships and taken steps to increase military participation in our children's schools. We're active in mentoring programs with local schools and providing role models for at-risk youth."

Military parents are encouraged to participate in school programs and take the time necessary to be part of the process, he said. "We've also taken steps to involve local school leaders in our base communities and talk to them about matters affecting our children," Hopper noted.

Hopper described a recent Vanderbilt study that suggested if DoD schools were lumped together in the same category and they were called a state, that state would rank scholastically in the top two in the country. "Parental involvement is the key reason for that," he said. "So to encourage this type of success in public schools, we must continue to reinforce involvement."

The Air Education and Training Command has a school liaison officer at each base nationwide who is responsible for discussing issues effecting military families with local school officials. "The intent is to partner with the community, promote understanding and work together to resolve problems," Hopper said.

There are more than 700,000 military dependents being educated in public schools, and about 75 percent are in 600 school districts on or near military installations, Hopper said. He noted those students are fortunate to have the Military Child Education Coalition working on their behalf.

"I'm very impressed with the progress you all have made," Hopper told Coalition members at the conference. He noted that the Secondary Education Transition Study, conducted by the MCEC and published in 2001, represents the largest study ever performed on high school military students' transitions.

"It provided invaluable insight and guidance to meet the needs of our high-school-age children," the general said. The results are being used throughout DoD to "stabilize the environment" for transitioning military families with high school students.

Hopper called the MCEC resource, quarterly newsletter and Web site – www.militarychild.org, great assets for parents and educators to understand testing, promotion and graduation requirements from different states.

And, he added, MCEC is growing, which is good news for military- connected children, parents, educators and the nation. The Coalition has trained more than 200 counselors in 21 states and five foreign countries, Hopper said.

"That's a very significant and important feat, especially when you consider how many counselors have limited knowledge about the transition issues faced by military children," he said. "There's simply no substitute for having an advocate in our corner."

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