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Prof's Research on Troops to Teachers Program Prompts BBC Documentary

Two studies of the U.S. Department of Defense's Troops to Teachers (TTT) program by William Owings, professor of educational leadership at Old Dominion University, recently attracted the attention of the BBC in the United Kingdom, where a similar program will be implemented this spring.

The BBC dispatched a crew to Hampton Roads in January to see the U.S. program in action for a documentary the network plans to run this month.

Owings was the lead investigator of the 2006 study "Troops to Teachers' Classroom Effectiveness: Implications for Principals," which was published in the NASSP Bulletin, a journal of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. His second study, "The Effects of Troops-to-Teachers on Student Achievement: One State's Study," was published in January 2010 in the NASSP Bulletin. Working with him on this study were Leslie Kaplan, a retired administrator with Newport News Public Schools, and two faculty members from the ODU educational foundations and leadership department, John Nunnery, who led the 2010 study, and Shana Pribesh.

Mark Alden, a producer with BBC Current Affairs who has worked on radio and television documentaries for the last 15 years, is preparing the half-hour documentary about the Troops to Teachers program. His crew visited ODU last month to interview Owings for the report and filmed TTT teachers at two schools on the Peninsula.

The documentary is scheduled to air in the United Kingdom and around the world in February on the BBC's flagship current-affairs program "Panorama" (www.bbc.co.uk/panorama), which bills itself as "the world's longest running investigative TV show."

"School discipline is always a hot topic of debate in the UK. Classroom disruption is one of the biggest barriers to learning facing school children today," Alden said.

"The new coalition government in the UK recently announced plans to launch a British version of the Troops to Teachers program in the spring as part of its drive to improve discipline and pupil engagement in schools. So the BBC came to the Newport News school district to examine how the scheme works in practice and the impact ex-military teachers are having on the lives and educational prospects of pupils, many of whom come from high poverty, disadvantaged backgrounds."

The BBC visited Denbigh High School and Huntington Middle School, which employs three former members of the military as teachers.

The state office for Virginia TTT is located on the ODU campus and supports the teacher licensure programs at all of Virginia's higher education institutions. According to Joe Wargo, director of the office, more than 850 troops have held teaching positions in Virginia, from elementary school through high school, as a result of having gone through the TTT program. About half of those teachers have been in Hampton Roads classrooms.

Neither Wargo nor Owings is aware of any countries that have adopted the TTT model.

Owings, who was quoted previously in Time magazine and The Washington Post in connection to his TTT research, said at first he thought one of his friends was playing a joke on him when he received the initial call from Alden.

"It's very rewarding to know that your research has an audience and becomes practical to people," he said, adding that all of the studies' authors deserve credit for their work.

Troops to Teachers was established in 1994 as a Department of Defense program. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and is managed by the Defense Activity for non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) in Pensacola, Fla.

The primary objective of TTT is to help recruit quality teachers for schools that serve low-income families throughout the United States. TTT helps relieve the teacher shortages, especially in math, science, special education and other high-need subject areas, and assists military personnel in making a successful transition to a second career in teaching.

Quoted in an Oct. 8, 2009, Time magazine story, "From Iraq to Class: Turning Troops into Teachers," Owings said of his 2006 study: "Principals and other supervisors have reported that these teachers worked better with problem children, worked better with parents and worked better with colleagues." He also noted in the story that, according to administrators' observations, "the TTT people rated higher in exhibiting behaviors that are associated with increases in student achievement."

In his latest study, Owings and his co-authors examined data from Florida that compared student achievement in TTT classrooms with student achievement in classrooms taught by teachers with traditional training. The authors write in the journal article abstract: "Results indicated that students served by Troops teachers performed about equally well in Reading and achieved a small but statistically significant advantage in Mathematics when compared with all teachers but achieved substantially and statistically significantly higher in both Reading and Mathematics when compared with teachers matched by subject and teaching experience."

This article was posted on: February 3, 2011

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