NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Pentagon Could Teach Public Schools Some Lessons

April 13, 2004

U.S. Defense Department schools -- a network of 223 separate schools serving the children of U.S. troops around the world -- are an education success story. The black and Hispanic students in Defense Department schools lead the nation in minority test scores. But the successes aren't limited to just minority students. On federal writing tests, eighth-graders rank second nationally.

Studies by researchers at Vanderbilt University reveal that such success comes by holding students to high expectations. All students -- not just top achievers -- are required to take demanding courses.

Other reasons for success include:

  • About 25 years ago, Defense curriculum experts selected an effective writing program and stuck with it; each teacher receives elaborate training in teaching that program.
  • Defense Department schools also wrap professional development tightly around academic goals, according to a Vanderbilt researcher who studied them; by contrast, professional development in public schools is haphazard, many studies have concluded.

In Defense schools, testing lines up perfectly with curriculum. For example:

  • Defense Department curriculum experts designed their own test to ensure students learn the writing program.
  • In public schools, students aren't always tested on the curriculum they're taught.

Lastly, when military families move, new students receive an individual diagnosis of academic skills, a visit from a counselor and a "buddy" to help them adjust. In many public schools, new students are left to survive on their own.

Wartime spending needs may force the Defense Department to close some of its domestic schools. That's all the more reason for public schools to find ways now to transfer the success of Defense Department schools into their own classrooms, says USA Today.

Source: Editorial, "Pentagon could teach public schools some lessons," USA Today, April 13, 2004.

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