- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.
By “Nonny Maus”
Best Defense guest columnist
A year and a half ago a short article for Best Defense blasted the Army’s Command and General Staff College for the problems inherent in its bloated schedule. Indeed, CGSC’s own research into its officer course, as part of its Campaign Plan 2014, found that its “schedule is unpredictable, poorly synchronized, and overtaxes students while under-challenging them.” In of itself this is damning, but the important thing is to see what has been done to fix what are clearly significant problems. If the scheduling issues have been effectively dealt with it would be a manifest demonstration that CGSC was sincere in its desire as an organization to improve things. CGSC has, however, not fixed the schedule. Certainly, some scheduling changes have occurred but they are largely superficial. Furthermore, and perhaps more worryingly, it appears to be heading back to where it started.
The current school year did see some small improvements. Based upon information published in CGSC’s official schedule — the straw man calendar — the overall number of hours was this year reduced to 836, from close to 900 hours last year (or about 950 hours including compulsory guest lectures). Adding this year’s 25 guest lectures adds 52 hours more. Thus we arrive at a total of 888 hours, which you can call progress of sorts. It is a reduction, but of course there is a long way to go if CGSC is to match its claimed peers. So far, then, CGSC has at least been heading in the right direction, albeit slowly. The problem is this: What is planned for the future?
A draft of the 2015-2016 schedule was recently released. Read it and you will see that not only are there no further cuts, there is actually a small increase proposed in the number of classroom hours. Of course, this is just a draft, but it does indicate the thinking of the school. If the schedule had been genuinely fixed, then this would be a minor matter. However, the fundamental problem has not been solved. There are still too many hours in the schedule. Indeed, in 2013 the school’s Campaign Plan 2014 identified that “student in-class contact hours are expanding while reflection time to master learning is decreasing.” If that was identified as a significant problem undermining educational efforts, why was it not dealt with? Not only has the number of hours not been significantly reduced, the indications are that the drift upwards has begun again. This is how the schedule got into problems in the first place, with a few hours added here and there until the whole schedule was an “unpredictable, poorly synchronized” mess.
How did CGSC end up like this?
Well, part of the problem stems form the way it calculates hours. According to the Campaign Plan 2014 the “duty day” is defined “as one hour of preparation for each contact hour” (1+1). Doing it this way certainly makes the math easy for the scheduling of classes. What’s the problem with that, one might argue as scheduling is complicated? One could answer that the calculation does not clearly match Federal education guidelines, nor does it match those of the Higher Learning Commission (see page 26), the body that directly accredits the school’s master’s degree program.
Of course, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this as long as the overall number of hours is sufficient for the awarding of the offered master’s degree. What the 1+1 calculation indicates is the attitude of CGSC towards education. What the reader should note is that it falls between the requirements for practica, which requires no outside reading and preparation, and those for educational seminars. (Federal education guidelines call for one classroom hour plus a minimum of two reading and preparation hours, which most good graduate programs exceed.) Again, there is nothing wrong with the 1+1 calculation if there is a large requirement for training and the total number of hours matches federal guidelines for sufficient degree credits. Certainly, some training is essential. The problem with the 1+1 calculation for the schedule, however, lies in its seeming contradiction of the official CGSC vision: “The US Army Command and General Staff College is and will always strive to be an educational center of excellence.” Surely, therefore, there should be a minimum of two hours of preparation (call it reflection time) for each classroom hour and, as such, CGSC should have continued to cut contact hours to facilitate the necessary “reflection time to master learning”? Without sufficient “reflection time” it is clear the school thinks students will be unable to “master learning.” That thought is matched almost universally by education research, yet it is not matched in practice by CGSC.
One could, of course, argue that looking at the schedule is a side issue, and that it tells us little about the school. However, that would be wrong because how the school treats its schedule is a demonstration of what it really thinks about education and how it sees itself. Based upon its practice CGSC sees the schedule as a math problem and not as a means to enhance education. That CGSC’s vision proclaims one thing while the school actively does another is dishonest, but it is not alone as this excellent article by the Strategic Studies Institute points out. And that, fundamentally, is the main issue.
Thus, if things like this are truly ever going to be dealt with, an independent review appears to be essential.
“Nonny Maus” parked next to you this morning.
Noah Albro/Wikimedia Commons