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Air Force vice chief of staff discusses education, innovation

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer and Jack Buckley, the senior vice president of research for the College Board, spoke about innovation and education during the Military Child Education Coalition’s 17th National Training Seminar July 31.

Spencer, who was a military child himself, spoke on the importance of education, especially for those who may be growing up in underprivileged communities.

Education 'a big equalizer'

"I grew up here in southeast D.C. My father was in the Army, and my mother hadn’t graduated high school," the general said. "I was the oldest of six children, and I didn’t understand the importance of education."

He said he was focused on football and girls, but after graduating high school, he joined the Air Force and began to understand the value of education.

"Once I got into the Air Force, I started to mature and see how important education and technology was and how crucial it was to our warfighting capability,” he said. "I started to take any class I could get my hands on.”

He said he recently went back to his old neighborhood, and many of his friends are either in jail or no longer living. He said he may have never left the neighborhood had it not been for the Air Force and for his education.

"I’m not any smarter than they are, but I got my education, and I got to learn, and I got to travel,” he said. "Education is a big equalizer. It doesn’t matter where you come from. It doesn’t matter what advantages or disadvantages you have. If you can get your hands on education, it is the equalizer that can put you on the path to achieve anything you want to achieve.”

Innovation

The general said the Air Force was born in innovation, and during his career he's seen the Air Force evolve from using a low-flying F-4 Phantom to capture a single image to today’s remotely piloted aircraft recording and streaming real-time video. He also mentioned the Air Force’s fifth-generation fighters and how the Air Force runs satellites that assist the GPS technology people use in their cars.

Spencer acknowledged a negative side of innovation; while children are growing up more savvy in computing, social media and technology, they sometimes lack in personal social skills and in professional development. He said the abbreviated talking on digital platforms has hurt their ability in professional communications.

"Some of the Facebook and Twitter technique and language, the shorthand and not using full words and sentences -- when you get into the professional environment, you have to know how to communicate," he said. "You have to know how to speak and know how to write a resume. You have to be able to write professional letters."

Spencer said he has also found that some military leaders have a tendency to just send emails to their people.

"In my experience, I don’t care how old you are or what your background is, nothing substitutes as a leader for getting in front of your people and talking to them face to face, letting them see your body language and vice versa and making sure they know exactly where you’re coming from and you know exactly where they’re coming from,” he said.

New SATs

Buckley, a former Navy nuclear engineer and surface warfare officer, said there's also a core set of skills students need in order to be successful in college.

He said the College Board is using innovation to redesign the SAT. Instead of just having students take the SAT in their senior year and assess what they haven’t learned, Buckley said, they can now take a suite of assessments starting in the eighth grade. The tests will provide diagnostic feedback in key areas such as reading and writing, which will inform students whether they are on track, Buckley said.

"We’ve also partnered with Khan Academy," he added. "They’ve produced a free assessment and made it public last month. We’ve had 250,000 people who’ve been on, and they’ve done a million practice questions, practicing new skills in reading, writing and analyzing graphs to explain them.

"If they’re not getting it, they can get real feedback and a personalized plan that can actually help them improve," Buckley continued. "We’re not just coming in and grading them at the end. We’re trying to build an infrastructure and figure out where they need help and get them that help.”

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