There was a story earlier this week about a school system that is getting outstanding results despite having a very diverse student population spread over a very large area – namely most of the world. Many people don’t know that the Department of Defense runs 220 schools with more than 100,000 students, including almost 70 schools in the "domestic system".
The overall record of achievement for students in the DOD system is something that many US districts would envy, especially among minority students. They have a higher percentage of minority students taking AP classes and "last year, black and Hispanic eighth-graders in these schools outperformed their peers in all 50 states in reading."
So, why are DOD schools so successful despite having, on paper, some very large challenges?
Principal Kenneth Killebrew said the key is high standards for all, regardless of race or rank. "We tell all our students, ‘We expect you to be successful. We know you can be successful,’" he said. "Then we provide the necessary support to make it happen."
Students in Defense Department schools enjoy some advantages over students in public schools: At least one parent in each military family has a full-time job and at least a high school diploma. And the military encourages parents to participate in school events. Fail to appear at a parent-teacher conference and the school might complain to your commanding officer – a stick that administrators say they rarely use.
Don’t minimize that last part. I was an Air Force brat and, while I never went to a DOD school, the majority of the kids in the ones I attended were military. It was no small matter when the principal discussed sending a note to the base commander about student conduct or lack of parental involvement. They rarely used that "stick" because the threat was all it took. As someone in the article said "Those principals [of civilian schools with majority military kids] never had a discipline problem. They could call the colonel. The colonel could call the parent, and that was that."
Beyond strong parental involvement in their kids’ education (by command, if necessary), the DOD schools also have other advantages not shared by civilian schools. They have a standard curriculum so that no matter where a student moves they don’t have to do much adjusting to their school work. The schools are relatively small and well equipped and the teachers are generally better paid than those in non-DOD schools. One of the biggest advantages, however, is that the schools themselves are part of a very supportive community with many people and offices available to help with problems. That has become extremely important in the past few years with so many of the parents involved in wars.
But there was one piece of this article that was quite disturbing.
But students at Pentagon-run schools also face their share of difficulties. They move constantly. And they’re just as likely as other public school students to live in poverty. At Fort Campbell High, nearly one in four students qualify for subsidized meals.
Not the moving part. If you don’t know anything different, that becomes part of normal life. But the fact that so many military families are living in poverty is downright shameful.