Military, Educators Join Forces To Recruit Newly Demobilized Officers Into Teaching

By Karen Diegmueller — August 01, 1990 6 min read

A joint teacher-recruitment venture by the military and the Florida Department of Education could be the first of a new series of such projects spurred by impending reductions in U.S. troop levels.

Florida education officials and the U.S. Army in July agreed tentatively to cooperate in the program, under which the Army will alert personnel being released from active duty to the opportunities for teaching careers in the state. Final approval is expected this month.

The initial focus, organizers of the effort say, will be on some 640 junior officers who are being compelled to leave the Army by the end of September in the first phase of military-wide cuts.

Eventually, the state intends to branch out and target Navy and Air Force personnel stationed at 32 bases throughout Florida, said Jim Pirius, director of the Army Transition Project for the state education department. Those branches of the service are “going to be affected [by cuts] down the line, too,” he said.

On a smaller scale, state education officials in California, working in concert with the Army and the Navy, are seeking a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Education Department to recruit and prepare officers to teach in public schools.

In part, these actions are being taken in anticipation of what the Pentagon calls a “drawdown.” With Communism on the wane in Eastern Europe and a lessening of tensions between Washington and the Soviet Union, the U.S. is shrinking its armed forces.

Although the Administration and the Congress have not settled on firm figures, Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney has recommended a reduction of 441,000 military positions by 1995.

“Here is a problem for the military that could be a solution for the education world,” said Christopher T. Cross, an assistant secretary in the U.S. Education Department, which is acting as a “broker” for projects like the Florida venture.

States proposing such efforts may seek ED money earmarked for mid-career-teacher programs.

Alabama, Indiana, New York, Ohio, and Texas are discussing projects similar to Florida’s, according to Gordon M. Ambach, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which is helping to connect interested states with the Defense Department.

“This is an issue of how the nation uses its resources,” said Mr. Ambach. “How does the nation best invest those resources where we most need them?”

Tens of thousands of service men retire annually, Mr. Ambach pointed out. “This is not as if it were a brand-new phenomenon,” he said. “The issue right now is, of course, an expansion of the numbers.”

Technical Expertise

Within the ranks of the military, teacher-recruitment officials say they expect to find a large pool of talent from which to draw--particularly in more technical subjects.

Terence E. Garner, assistant superintendent for personnel for the Dade County, Fla., schools, said he expected most of the officers available to fall into the mathematics and science categories.

But he said the most pressing need in Dade County is for special-education teachers.

“There could be a psychology major in there who would only need a few more courses” to teach special education, he said.

School officials may also look to the military to fill the increasing need for minority teachers. Minorities made up 29.4 percent of the armed forces as of March and nearly 12 percent of the officer corps, according to Maj. Douglas Hart, a Defense Department spokesman.

Officials in Florida are hoping to recruit 50 to 100 Army officers the first year of the joint project to fill some of the state’s 1,000 to 1,600 teacher openings.

“All of these folks will have college degrees, so they’ll be prime candidates for teaching,” said Mr. Pirius, who represents Florida’s education department in Washington.

“Many of them have even been doing some teaching in the service,” said Mr. Garner. For example, Navy personnel serve in schools as math, science, and English tutors as part of the Personal Excellence Partnership Program, begun in 1982.

Veterans have “an awful lot of experience to bring to a classroom,” said Bruce Robinson, the Northern California director of the Personal Excellence program. “It’s a perfect match.”

Mr. Robinson will coordinate the Navy’s efforts in the proposed California program.

Teacher recruitment is but one component of the Army Transition Project in Florida, according to Cheryl Ross, a program analyst for the Army Career and Alumni Program Task Force.

Network of Centers

The project will also direct departing officers and civilian employees of the service to the transportation, hospitality, law-enforcement, and health-care industries in the state, she said.

The program will be implemented through new job-assistance centers to be located at 57 Army installations worldwide. Pilot projects will begin operating in October at eight yet-to-be-disclosed sites, with the majority of sites opening next April.

The centers will market career opportunities in Florida through pamphlets and a toll-free 800 number directing callers to the appropriate source.

Even before the centers open, the toll-free number will be in service. “Florida can expect to begin receiving calls within two weeks or less” Ms. Ross said.

Once the recruits are hired for teaching assignments in Florida districts, they will be required to take pedagogical instruction at alternative-certification centers. If qualified in a subject, they can teach as long as two years with provisional certification, according to state education officials.

Pedagogical instruction is also a facet of the California program. The project there, to be tested in the San Francisco Bay Area, would require candidates to take 30 units of teacher-preparation coursework during an 18-month period, leading to a master’s degree in teaching and state certification.

“This should not be looked at as a fast track into the teaching profession,” said Laura A. Wagner, manager of intersegmental teaching-improvement projects in the California Department of Education.

The California program, according to a written proposal, was designed specifically for those leaving the military. It says that previous attempts to employ military retirees as teachers “have only had limited success, in part because they have failed to address the particular needs of the mid-career military personnel.”

Taking those drawbacks into consideration, the California plan includes financial support for the prospective teachers--a $2,500 stipend and another $7,500 for those who work as graduate assistants. The state has also built in a professional- and personal-support system to assist in the transition.

A semester-long course, Introduction to Teaching, would be offered to those interested in making teaching their second careers.

Earlier Efforts

Preliminary findings of an existing pilot program to attract military personnel to teaching confirm the need for support services in such undertakings.

Begun in 1987, the project conducted by the National Executive Service Corps recruits retiring Navy and Army officers to teach math and science. (See Education Week, April 1, 1987.)

“I expected these people to do it on their own, but the message we got back is these people need every bit as much support during their first few months of teaching as does a [traditional beginning teacher] of 25,” said Dorothy B. Windhorst, a vice president in the corps’ math and science group.

Fort Bragg, N.C., in conjunction with Fayetteville State University, will begin its third class under the program this fall. The first graduated 10 officers, five of whom are teaching in the Cumberland County schools, according to Capt. Barbara A. Goodno, an Army spokesman. The others are still on active duty.

A complete analysis of the project will not be available until October.

In 1986, the secretaries of Defense and Education, Caspar W. Weinberger and William J. Bennett, announced a plan to encourage military retirees to become school administrators and teachers. (See Education Week, Oct. 8, 1986.)

Current officials of the Education and Defense departments said they were unfamiliar with the plan and its status.

A version of this article appeared in the August 01, 1990 edition of Education Week as Military, Educators Join Forces To Recruit Newly Demobilized Officers Into Teaching