Doug Noble Speaks Out Against Proposed Military Academy in RCSD

Doug Noble’s Speech to the RCSD School Board April 28, 2016

As someone with a Ph.D. in education who’s written extensively about the military in public education, when I first heard of the proposed military academy, I went and reviewed a century of research on the merits, costs, and overall educational value of such schools.

Doug Noble at the RCSD School Board Meeting

Doug Noble at the RCSD School Board Meeting

After all, if someone were proposing a new school based on, say, expeditionary learning or outward bound or headstart, isn’t that how we’d go about evaluating their proposal? In this case, what I found were overwhelmingly negative assessments of such schools, which I shared with the press and with this Board a month ago, and have submitted to you again today. 

I was curious to see how this new Report would somehow provide evidence proving the benefits of a public military academy. Remarkably, though, the report’s authors don’t even try to build their case on such evidence.

Instead, their recommendations are based entirely on views of people who know little or nothing about such schools, but who are assumed to have sufficiently informed opinions about public military schools, simply by having some familiarity with education and by living in a society with a pervasive military presence.

The report itself even concedes that these opinions, gathered through surveys and focus groups, “should not be taken as a quantitative representation of community opinions.” Yet the report’s authors have already irresponsibly publicized in local media the false claim that there is“a significant level of support within the greater Rochester community for a military-style school.”

Surprisingly, given District budget constraints, the report recommends starting a brand new National Defense Cadet Corps (NDCC) program, for which the District itself would  bear the full cost into the foreseeable future. This, instead of simply  consolidating the District’s jROTC programs, already cost-shared with the Army. Remarkably, the affordability of these recommended new costs and cost tradeoffs within the actual and projected District budget is not even addressed by this so-called “feasibility report.”                                     

The report’s authors insist they have strived to be unbiased since “Many of the members of this Committee have a background with strong military ties, and several are approaching transition points in their careers, which could lead the public [to] suspect ulterior motives.” Maybe it’s time to ask what sinecures await the newly retiring promoters of this military academy.
In fact, this scramble to be unbiased has resulted in an eerily anonymous report, somehow emerging from an innocent collective curiosity about whether the community would want a public military academy. But there are individuals behind this Report who very much want it, to the point of claiming falsely that their report has the full endorsement of its committee (it doesn’t) and even the support of the teachers union (a surprise to the union’s president). 
In the end,  this inept and disingenuous Report  fails to make any legitimate case for a military academy in this District. I ask the Board not to be distracted by this effort, but focus instead on  important things like adopting a humane code of conduct that doesn’t include police arrests or court martials.

Additional comments too long for the speech.

If one were to present a report to the Board proposing a new high school based on, say,  the Expeditionary Learning model, one would need to make a case for it. One would define the model and its benefits, offer evidence of its success elsewhere, review existing research on its merits, problems, costs, implementations, etc. If there were already such a school in the District, one would survey and interview people actually experienced with or knowledgeable about this program who can offer a balanced assessment of its value to the District. The last thing one would do would be to promote such a school based on uninformed opinions by people who know little or nothing about it.
Yet this report does exactly this, and little else. An underlying assumption throughout is that the community is already informed about and prejudiced for or against public military schools, simply by living in a society inundated by ubiquitous military images and slogans. So this report doesn’t even TRY to build a case for a military academy, through research evidence, references, arguments, and personal examples, even though jROTC programs have been in public schools for a century, and public military academies have been around for several decades. There is by now a large body of scholarship describing and assessing these programs, but the report cites none of this.
Instead, it offers several pages of “background” statistics on a select few public military schools, retrieved from state ed websites, without any attempt at commentary or even any data from current RCSD jROTC programs. The remaining basis for the report’s recommendations is opinions by people with minimal actual knowledge of military schools, gathered in focus groups and interviews with a total of about 30 or 40 people, and from several hundred surveys, which, the report concedes, “should not be taken as a quantitative representation of community opinions, but rather as an indicator of the level of support within the community.”
The report’s overall recommendation is that, “based upon the work completed by the Advisory Committee, a military high school in Rochester is not only operationally feasible but also desirable…The results obtained … reveals [sic] that a majority of respondents would like the District to offer a military school that utilizes the public military academy model.” But, strangely, the report nowhere describes such a model, stating instead only that, “One such definition is provided by the Association of Military Colleges and Schools of the United States.” A search of the Association website turned up no such definition, and, more significantly, no such model was ever even presented to survey respondents.

Another discrepancy :all recommendations in the report are introduced with the words “The Advisory Committee recommends…” But at least two committee members insist they never saw the report before it was first posted on the Board website April 17. They were never asked to review it or sign off on it, yet the report claims all its recommendations come from the committee.

Yet another discrepancy: The report claims, puzzlingly, that “RTA president Adam Urbanski has confirmed the support of RCSD teachers’ union in opening the school.” Yet Urbanski, when contacted about this,  wrote, “I have not seen any report. RTA only agreed to have teachers on the committee exploring the idea…”
One unexplained recommendation for establishing the military academy is to start a new National Defense Cadet Corps (NDCC) program, rather than to choose the far less costly option of  transferring or consolidating existing jROTC programs, with costs shared by the military. The report acknowledges that with its recommendation, “RCSD covers the full cost of military staffing and equipment until the US Army approves the JROTC program. It is unknown how long the approval process will take.” “A National Defense Cadet Corps (NDCC) program,” according to its website, “is virtually identical to JROTC except it is fully funded by schools that choose to pursue a JROTC unit without financial assistance from the Army, … an excellent alternative for schools that wish to expedite a program.”
The report offers no explanation for its apparent urgency to expedite its proposed academy, despite the huge fiscal burden it would place on an already burdened District.
The report’s authors, whoever they are, assume a strangely defensive stance early in the report: “The ethics of the Committee itself and its relationship with the military community were subject to self-scrutiny in order to guarantee an unbiased product and recommendation to the Rochester City School District. Many of the members of this Committee have a background with strong military ties, and several are approaching transition points in their careers. It would be an error for this Committee to recommend anything to the district that is not fully based in fact and unbiased. Additionally, it is unethical for any member to have positive recommendations for the sole purpose of furthering one’s own career. Maintaining transparency and objectivity is paramount to providing a credible recommendation. It would also be untruthful to hide the fact that one of the Committee members is responsible for Army Recruiting in the Greater Rochester Area. Only unbiased truth and accountability will guarantee that the public at large trusts the results of this inquiry and does not suspect ulterior motives.” One might now begin to suspect such motives.
In fact, its scramble to be unbiased is perhaps the most curious aspect of this report. If one were proposing a new school, one would, quite naturally, be biased in favor of it and lead the effort to sell it. Why else would one propose it? But this report postures as  being “objective,” without anyone out front making the case for the school. Instead, it hides its promotion behind recommendations supposedly endorsed by an “advisory committee,” and from dubious statistics gleaned from surveys and focus groups. It’s as if the initiative to conduct this process came out of the blue, as someone’s fanciful thought experiment simply wondering whether the community would welcome a military school in the District.

But, of course, there are individuals behind this entire process and behind this report who very much want a military school in the District. Unfortunately, and ironically, despite the military’s claims about building “leadership” and “character” and “discipline” in its schools, the hidden promoters of this academy demonstrate neither the character to stand up and lead the effort, nor the discipline to produce a minimally respectable report.

Letter to the Editor of the Democrat & Chronicle

Editor:

The headline for Justin Murphy’s  April 26  article “Study shows interest in RCSD military academy” is false. The article misleads the public and must be retracted before more people believe it. The authors of the military academy report just released have irresponsibly publicized a conclusion they know to be false, that there is “a significant level of support within the greater Rochester community for a military-style school.” In fact, the report states explicitly that the opinions collected of several hundred respondents to surveys and focus groups “should not be taken as a quantitative representation of community opinions.”

The report itself is fatally flawed throughout and should not be taken seriously.  The report’s authors don’t even try to build a case for a military academy based on research evidence or knowledgeable testimony. Instead, its recommendations are based entirely on opinions of people who know (and are told) little or nothing about public military schools. These respondents are considered sufficiently informed only by their marginal familiarity with education and by their relentless media exposure to all things military.

The report alleges falsely that it has the full endorsement of its “advisory committee” (members say it doesn’t) and even the support of the teachers union (a surprise to the union’s president). The report recommends without explanation starting a brand new  program, for which the District itself would bear the full cost, even though consolidation of the District’s existing jROTC programs would share costs with the Army. Whether the District could afford these new costs is not even addressed by this so-called “feasibility report.”

The report acknowledges that “Many of the members of this Committee have a background with strong military ties, and several are approaching transition points in their careers, which could lead the public [to] suspect ulterior motives.” This does indeed leads us to ask whether promising sinecures awaiting newly retired military officers are really what’s driving this promotion of a military academy.

In the end,  this inept and disingenuous report fails to make any legitimate case for a military academy that might benefit District students. Its case depends only on trying to convince us that the community wants it, through deceptive and misleading publicity that the media seems only too eager to swallow.

Douglas D. Noble

 

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