April 10, 2006

Military Base Schools

This Washington Post op-ed on "The Myth of the 'Boy Crisis'" was pretty good overall, but I was more intrigued by this bit at the end:
The Department of Defense offers a better model [for schools]. DOD runs a vast network of schools on military bases in the United States and abroad for more than 100,000 children of service members. And in those schools, there is no class and race gap. That's because these schools have high expectations, a strong academic focus, and hire teachers with years of classroom experience and training (a majority with master's degrees).
Really? Apparently so. In 2000, Education Week reported that "black and Hispanic students at the 154 Department of Defense schools overseas--along with 70 others operated by the military on U.S. soil--do better than their counterparts almost anywhere in the United States." And the Christian Science Monitor noted in 2003 that the schools' 112,000 students "outperform the national average," despite being poorer as a group than students at most U.S. schools. 80 percent of base students go to college, compared with 67 percent nationally.

So that's impressive. How come military schools are so good? It turns out that Jenny LaCoste-Caputo of the San Antonio Express-News investigated this only a few weeks ago, looking at San Antonio's three school districts on military bases—all of them with sterling educational reputations. Among other things, students come from families that, while not rich, have a steady paycheck; everyone has access to good health care, and there's a "culture of discipline." (Students supposedly "know their bad behavior can have serious consequences for their parents.")

But another major difference comes down to money. The military school districts have "twice as much money to spend per student as the average Texas district"—not to mention fewer students in the first place. That means smaller classes, more aides, more assistants, more ESL classes. Across the country, the disparities aren't quite as stark, but base schools still spend $9,500 per student, as compared to a national average of $8,800 in public schools. No one can really say exactly how much of the success of military base schools is due to money and how much due to the other stuff, but that's obviously a big gap.
-- Brad Plumer 9:53 PM || ||