Tonight at 8 pm ET, President Obama will outline his plan to begin drawing down troops in Afghanistan.
Not only is this a fulfillment of his promise at his West Point 2010 speech to do so, it’s long past time we pivot away from battlefields and commit our precious people-power and national spending priorities to the many economic troubles we have at home. The American people favor, by large margins, a return of our troops and an end to the occupation of Afghanistan: 64% believe that troop levels should be decreased and 73% believe “substantial” numbers of troops should be withdrawn starting this summer.
It’s an undeniable fact that our veterans will be coming home to a weakened economy. How will we absorb them into a job market that can barely sustain the people here already searching for work? We’ve heard nothing but “austerity” talk from the GOP, and both tax cuts and job cuts — yes, government jobs are also jobs — from the Republican party. Clearly they have nothing to offer.
Bob Fertik over at the USA Jobs Party has a great suggestion: immediately hire 3 million teacher’s aides to help in the classroom, and give 99ers (those who have been out of work longer than the 99 weeks covered by unemployment benefits) and veterans first crack at work as teacher’s aides.
Building on that, here’s my suggestion: utilize a little-known part of No Child Left Behind called Troops to Teachers to help returning veterans who want to become teaching professionals gain the credentials and certification to enable them to have lengthy, successful careers in the classroom. These veterans would serve as teachers in low-income schools where need is greatest. Members of the House of Representatives Doris Matsui (D-CA), Tom Petri (R-WI), and Joe Courtney (D-CT) are currently co-sponsoring a bill that would expand Troops to Teachers outside of the effort to renew this section that also appears in the nation’s education law, No Child Left Behind. (Because NCLB’s reauthorization is delayed, many lawmakers have isolated portions of NCLB into stand-alone bills that might have a better chance of passing.)
When first implemented under the Bush administration, many returning veterans took advantage of the program, and were awarded stipends if they worked in high-need schools. Troops to Teachers is still active.
No Child Left Behind (aka the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA) is currently in a state of limbo, with several unfunded mandates. The most prominent parts that draw negative attention, such as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and standardized testing, are the major sections that impact students’ and teachers’ lives. But what we forget is that the law has elements in it that are worth redeeming. Troops to Teachers could be one such part. In 2010 it was funded at $14 million dollars. I propose funding it at higher levels and coordinating teacher credentialing at community colleges that have already received funding through the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. Returning veterans could apprentice with master teachers immediately as teacher’s aides while also attending training and credentialing programs that would help them to transition into full-time careers as K-12 teachers.
We need veterans and their expertise in the classroom for these reasons:
- in Wisconsin, California, and many other states around the country, the mass retirement of teachers due to demographic shifts will leave a gap in the pipeline. A NYT report in 2009 estimated this loss of talent and experience as possibly exceeding 1 million of the nation’s 3.2 million teachers by 2014. We need to repair relationships with teachers who have been under attack by partisan demagogues, and shore up the loss of teachers through naturally occurring trends such as cohorts reaching retirement age.
- veterans bring a sense of personal discipline, teamwork, trust, and honor with them as a result of military training, values we look for and cherish in our existing teaching force
- military service is a form of public service, as is teaching; these values translate
- they bring high-tech know-how and an appreciation for hands-on, applied use of technology in real-world scenarios — this is another form of career-readiness our kids will want to be exposed to
- the same leadership qualities that distinguish the armed services in the field are the same ones we ask of our teachers as they guide their students’ learning: fortitude, resilience, cooperation
- veterans fighting in Afghanistan know that global peace and prosperity are possible when we defeat extreme, abject poverty overseas. They therefore have valuable perspective on the surmountable challenges that face families in low-income neighborhoods here at home, and what is both possible and necessary to do to help underserved communities in America reach their potential
President Obama would be wise to rescue and promote those parts of No Child Left Behind that help rebuild education, the teacher workforce, and the economy at the same time. Congress would be even wiser to fund and pass these parts of the law as soon as possible, as part of a real jobs program.
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