Best Defense

The other side of the CGSC story: Some of our Army officers are functionally illiterate

Best Defense is in summer reruns. Here is an item that originally ran on January 5, 2016.

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Best Defense is in summer reruns. Here is an item that originally ran on January 5, 2016.

By “Flash Override”
Best Defense guest respondent

I would like to take the discussion regarding CGSC even further. Yesterday you heard from the top of the class. But there is another side to this story. Unlike the other armed services, who only send 25 percent or fewer members of each year group to resident staff college, the Army sends almost 50 percent of each year group. This results in functionally illiterate Army majors coming to CGSC.

Think I’m exaggerating? Then you need to see the test scores from the Nelson-Denny Reading Exam. The Nelson-Denny, which has been around since 1929, measures the reading and comprehension ability of students. Approximately five percent of incoming U.S. Army students at CGSC each year score so low on the Nelson-Denny that they could fairly be classified as functionally illiterate.

We need to change that. We also need to have smaller student staff groups. Other staff colleges, as well as programs such as the School for Advanced Military Studies (SAMS), operate with 12-person student groups — what we term “staff groups” here at CGSC. More than 20 years ago, CGSC decided to have 16-person staff groups because that would save money on faculty and classroom design. However, all of the research in higher education regarding optimal class size suggests that 12 students is the upper limit of acceptable class size for adult learners. CGSC even built Eisenhower Hall (aka the General Instructional Facility) in the early 1990s with 12-person classrooms before abandoning that concept. With more selectivity of the student body and reduced staff group size, the total class size would be 1,152 — that is, 12 students per staff group times 96 classrooms. Each staff group would then have nine U.S. Army officers, one Air Force officer, one sea service officer (Navy or Marine), and one international officer.

I also want to address the issue of faculty job security that several other commentators have mentioned. Some sort of tenure or guaranteed contracts (currently our contracts can be terminated at any time and for any reason, even in the middle of the term) have to be instituted if we want to recruit and retain quality faculty. If tenure doesn’t happen until you’re a full professor then so be it, but I know something like tenure exists at other U.S. military schools and it needs to happen here.

I realize that these proposals may seem radical, but I feel the time has come for radical action. Currently, our students are being ill prepared, our faculty are being ill used, and our nation is being ill served.

“Flash Override” has taught at CGSC for more than a decade.

Photo: Fabio Venni/Flickr

Thomas 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 ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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