Opinion
Education Opinion

Department of Defense Schools Shine

By Walt Gardner — January 05, 2015 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

One of the least known educational success stories can be found in the 180 Department of Defense schools scattered around the globe (“Peripatetic Students Thrive At Department Of Defense Schools,” NPR, Jan. 1). Serving about 82,000 children, most of whose parents are on active duty, they report directly to the Pentagon, rather than to the Department of Education.

Although approximately a third of military children move every year and 45 percent of all military children are low-income, they tend to do better on average than their counterparts in public schools on standardized reading and math tests for 4th and 8th graders. Moreover, the achievement gap between white and black students is significantly lower than the national rate.

The question is why DOD schools are able to post these laudable results. I maintain that the most important reason is that teachers have complete support from parents. At Quantico Middle/High School in Virginia, where the average daily attendance rate is an impressive 94 percent, discipline issues are virtually nonexistent. That’s because parents can get into trouble if their children misbehave. As a result, any contact with parents gets their immediate and total attention. In short, there is parental accountability.

That’s the antithesis of the situation in traditional public schools. Often, it’s impossible for teachers to get parents to respond to their phone messages and certified letters. When they do, parents typically take the side of their children despite documented evidence of misbehavior. I remember spending countless hours trying to arrange parent conferences with students who were failing my class. Even when I was finally successful in contacting them, I found little, if any, follow through on their part.

DOD schools also get full personnel support. At Irwin Intermediate School in Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where 20 percent of students are in special education, there are two full-time counselors, a full-time nurse, a speech therapist, and an occupational therapist. In traditional public schools nationwide, there are 478 students for ever one counselor. One in five high schools has no counselors at all.

Further, DOD schools have the same curriculum, textbooks and graduation requirements, making it easier for children whose parents periodically relocate. This eliminates the time it takes for children to readjust to ongoing instruction and takes a load off teachers who would otherwise have to provide supplemental lessons. (Next year, all DOD schools will implement the Common Core standards.)

When students in traditional public schools move from state to state, they find themselves confronting material that they have already learned or that is too difficult. As more and more families from other states moved into the Los Angeles Unified School District area when I was teaching, I quickly found out that course titles meant very little in terms of what they had been taught. That meant preparing extra lessons to bring them up to speed or challenging them.

Perhaps because of these factors, teacher turnover is extremely low at DOD schools. At Irwin Intermediate, only one of the 50 teachers is new. Although their salaries are better than those at nearby public schools, I think the more likely explanation is that DOD schools provide an ideal environment in which to teach. Therefore, teacher morale is extremely high. Compare that with the morale of teachers in most traditional public schools, where almost half of new teachers quit after the first five years.

I’ve long believed that if parents whose children are in traditional public schools were more supportive and less faultfinding, teachers would not feel beaten down. Instead, traditional public schools are seen as the schools of last resort, with teachers scapegoated for every conceivable problem. It’s enough to make you wonder why more teachers don’t apply to DOD schools.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Using Integrated Analytics To Uncover Student Needs
Overwhelmed by data? Learn how an integrated approach to data analytics can help.

Content provided by Instructure
Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: October 27, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Vulnerable Students Left Behind as Schooling Disruptions Continue
The effects of unpredictable stretches at home can mirror those of chronic absenteeism and lead to long-term harm to learning.
4 min read
Students board a school bus on New York's Upper West Side on Sept. 13, 2021. Even as most students return to learning in the classroom this school year, disruptions to in-person learning, from missing one day because of a late school bus to an entire two weeks at home due to quarantine, remain inevitable as families and educators navigate the ongoing pandemic.
Students board a school bus on New York's Upper West Side on Sept. 13, 2021. Even as most students return to learning in the classroom this school year, disruptions to in-person learning, from missing one day because of a late school bus to an entire two weeks at home due to quarantine, remain inevitable as families and educators navigate the ongoing pandemic.
Richard Drew/AP
Education 'Widespread' Racial Harassment Found at Utah School District
The federal probe found hundreds of documented uses of the N-word and other racial epithets, and harsher discipline for students of color.
1 min read
A CNG, compressed natural gas, school bus is shown at the Utah State Capitol, Monday, March 4, 2013, in Salt Lake City. After a winter with back-to back episodes of severe pollution in northern Utah, lawmakers and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert will discuss clean air legislation and call for government and businesses to convert to clean fuel vehicles.
Federal civil rights investigators found widespread racial harassment of Black and Asian American students in the Davis school district north of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Rick Bowmer/AP Photo
Education Tiny Wrists in Cuffs: How Police Use Force Against Children
An investigation finds children as young as 6 and a disproportionate amount of Black children have been handled forcibly by police officers.
15 min read
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Nam Y. Huh/AP