Since its inception in 1994, the Troops to Teachers program has been an unqualified success. Over the past 12 years, at least 10,000 former military members have transitioned to second careers as educators at the elementary and secondary levels. Schools involved in the program have been almost universal in their praise of Troops-to-Teachers participants. More than 80% are male (providing an important role model for students); many teach science and math (high demand subjects) and virtually all of these teachers bring a badly-needed sense of discipline to the classroom.
Unfortunately, according to Air Force Times, the Troops to Teachers program has hit a snag. A new interpretation of the 2001 "No Child Left Behind" act has placed limits on which schools can participate in Troops to Teachers, greatly reducing employment opportunities for prospective educators. Wisconsin Republican Congressman Tom Petri says the "new" interpretation limits the program to schools with more than 10,000 students, or those where more than 20% of the student body live below the poverty line. Previously, Troops to Teachers was open to "high need" schools, without any specific numerical requirements.
Mr. Petri notes that the revised interpretation has produced a dramatic impact on schools in his home state. Under the old guidelines, more than 400 Wisconsin schools qualified for Troops to Teachers. With the more recent interpretation, only 11 schools now qualify. If the schools don't meet eligibility requirements, program participants don't qualify for the program's $5,000 stipend (which funds the additional education required to obtain a teaching certificate), and a $10,000 performance bonus, paid out over three years.
Petri blames the problem on a "drafting error," that referred to the wrong section of the law in defining eligibility requirements, and allowed far more schools to participate in the program. In September 2005, DoD tightened the requirements, reducing the number of eligible schools and supposedly bringing Troops to Teachers in compliance with the "original intent" of the Congress.
Neither Air Force Times nor Congressman Petri identified the DoD official or organization that made the change. But I detect the fine hand of the National Education Association at work in this affair. The NEA has long opposed "alternative" tracks for certifying new educators, and Troops to Teachers is no exception. The influx--and success--of former military personnel as teachers represents an indirect threat to the education establishment. Hiring a former military officer or NCO (many of whom have undergraduate or graduate degrees in math and science) means fewer jobs for education grads emerging from the local teacher's college. And, because the ex-military types tend to be more conservative, they are less supportive of the NEA's leftist agenda. In short, a well-educated, highly disciplined, conservative retired military member is not exactly the type of teacher the NEA wants.
Officially, the teacher's union has had little to say about the migration of former military personnel to the classroom; visit the NEA website, and you'll see that the organization is concerned about the national teacher shortage; yet there's not a single mention (let alone endorsement) of Troops to Teachers as partial solution. Call it omission by design; in an era when support for the military--and those who serve--remains high, the NEA doesn't want to directly attack former soliders, sailors, airmen and Marines who are willing to teach, at a fraction of the salary they would command in the private sector. But, the union isn't exactly rolling out the red carpet, either.
Instead, the NEA appears more than happy to let DoD tighten the rules, pushing new Troops to Teachers participants into chaotic urban schools. According to the union's own statistics, new teachers in those districts have an exceptionally high wash-out rate; more than 50% will leave the profession within five years, burned out by unruly students, poor facilities, a lack of support, and the threat of violence. It would be very interesting to know what role (if any) the NEA played in shaping the DoD decision, and why the teacher's union won't endorse a wider interpretation of No Child Left Behind, making many more schools eligible for Troops to Teachers.
Sadly, we already know the answer to those questions. While the NEA would be more than happy to see Troops to Teachers die a slow death, Congressman Petri and his Democratic colleague, Representative Doris Matsui of California, deserve support in their efforts. They've introduced a bill (HR 6334) that would restore the original eligibility guidelines for Troops to Teachers. Unfortunately, their bill has no chance of passage this year, and I doubt if Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi will include it in her "100 hour" agenda for the new Congress in January. I'm sure that her friends in the NEA will work quietly--and effectively--to keep HR 6334 (or future variants) on the legislative back burner.
Hat tip: Chief Buddy.