top of page
  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Why are Dept of Defense schools so good?

The highest-scoring school district in the country isn't a school district, reports Sarah Mervosh in the New York Times. The "Defense Department's schools outscored every jurisdiction in math and reading last year and managed to avoid widespread pandemic losses," according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.


Black and Hispanic eighth-graders outperformed the national averages for white students in reading. In addition, "eighth graders whose parents only graduated from high school . . . performed as well in reading as students nationally whose parents were college graduates." That's very unusual.




While DoD schools reopened quickly during the pandemic, the trend goes back to 2013, when students in military schools began gaining in national tests, Mervosh writes. "Even as the country’s lowest-performing students — in the bottom 25th percentile — have slipped further behind, the Defense Department’s lowest-performing students have improved in fourth-grade math and eighth-grade reading."

“If the Department of Defense schools were a state, we would all be traveling there to figure out what’s going on.”-- Martin West, Harvard education professor.

So what is the DoD's secret?


Military parents have jobs, housing and medical benefits, she points out. (On the flip side, military families move frequently, and children with a deployed parent face extra stress. Junior enlisted personnel don't make much money.)


DoD schools are integrated by race and socioeconomic status: enrollment is 42 percent white, 24 percent Hispanic, 10 percent Black, 6 percent Asian, and 15 percent multiracial.


Teachers are relatively well-paid, and tend to stay on the job. (I'd guess that relatively well-behaved students make their job easier.)


The DoD rolled out a new curriculum, starting in 2015, that is used in every school around the world. Teachers do not do their own thing.


Cicely Abron, an eighth-grade math teacher at a Ft. Moore, Georgia school "receives detailed feedback from coaches and administrators who observe her class," writes Mervosh. "Collaboration with other teachers is required and built into her weekly schedule."


In top-performing countries, leaders don't try to build an "all-star team," says Jason Dougal, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy. Effective jurisdictions have a “systemic way of improving everybody on the team.”


Common values are the key, writes Matthew Levey, an education leader and charter school founder. "The belief in hard work, self-discipline, and responsibility, both to one’s self and other group, are central to the military’s success."


Those values used to be widely shared, he writes. Now, progressive educators think social forces -- not individual decisions -- determine success. "'Work hard, be nice,' is for suckers."


Of course, the military doesn't take just anyone. Public schools can't require prospective parents to "pass the ASVAB (Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery) to enroll their child in kindergarten," writes Levey. But school leaders could build strong school communities around values such as hard work and respect for others. Many parents would buy in. "Schools where parents share common beliefs are generally more successful," he writes.

17 Comments


Guest
Nov 02, 2023

Seems pretty simple: All of the students have parents with a strong commitment to discipline. That's parental commitment is bound to bleed over to the students. Disciplined students are much easier to teach. Ispso facto, QED, Lorem Ipsom

Like

Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
Nov 01, 2023

The problem with all these analyses emphasizing the differences between DoDEA schools and common school districts in order to diminish this story is that they do not explain the improvement in DoDEA over the last ten years while the districts were declining: all of these facts about parents, discipline, transfer patterns, and so on were as true in 2013 as they are now, so how do you explain the differing changes in trajectory, if not by actual improvements within DoDEA?

Like
Guest
Nov 05, 2023
Replying to

Once again, I never understand people who think they are being clever by playing word games. The DODEA schools have always outperformed the average public school. The black students outperform the black students in all states. Want to know what state had the best black student scores. North Dakota. Because virtually all of the blacks in North Dakota are in the military, civil servants, or academics which sounds very similar to the parents whose children attend DODEA schools.

Like

Guest
Oct 31, 2023

DoD's secret is academic opportunity and efficient time use for students combined with teacher accountability. Students are learning grade level material if they are ready, not stuck in remedial as in roughly 1/3 of public schools (see Stanford Opportunity study) . Students do not have a lot of free time to wander. Teacher is accountable for reteach, there is no allowing a student to fall way behind and shrugging the shoulders if the parent fails to hire a moonlighting teacher as a tutor.

Like

Guest
Oct 31, 2023

The member parent of a kid who continues to misbehave will find themselves in the Sgt Major's office or XO's if an officer. And the parents will take learning seriously so the parent of a disruptive child is likely to receive a visit from other parents since they work on the same base or bases.


But it also seems like they follow the old fashioned idea that teaching is a trade that uses tried and true best practices instead of whatever was the latest whim going through ed schools.


Funny thing about schooling. The same problems were being written about a century ago, except the complete lack of will to keep discipline. That's not surprising since we are talking abo…


Like
Guest
Oct 31, 2023
Replying to

First, the number of PFC's having a wife, let alone a wife who is 18 or younger if very low. Second the teenage son of the colonel would almost ever be in a situation to meet any enlisted spouses. NCO clubs barely exist these days. German wives have not been a thing for decades. Even Korean wives are a thing of the past.


One might want to think about the military actually operates these days instead of dealing with old stereotypes.

Like

Guest
Oct 31, 2023

This comes up every year. There are very few students in the DODEA schools. Every student has a parent who made above a certain score on an IQ test, who made it through various levels of training, and who is employed.


The real number to compare would be to compare test scores for elementary schools operated by DODEA versus elementary school that sit inside the fence at DOD facilities but are operated by the local school district. Unless one can show a significant difference in those scores, there is no reason to get excited about anything DODEA does.


From https://www.dodea.edu/ There are nearly 900,000 military connected children of all ages worldwide, of which more than 66,000 are enrolled in DoD…

Like
bottom of page