Some readers might be surprised to learn that the U.S. military has its own educational K-12 system. So how does it perform? Better:
…once again, schools on the nation’s military bases have outperformed public schools on both reading and math tests for fourth and eighth graders.
At the military base schools, 39 percent of fourth graders were scored as proficient in reading, compared with 32 percent of all public school students.
Even more impressive, the achievement gap between black and white students continues to be much smaller at military base schools and is shrinking faster than at public schools.
On the NAEP reading test, black fourth graders in public schools scored an average of 205 out of 500, compared with a 231 score for white public school students, a 26-point gap. Black fourth graders at the military base schools averaged 222 in reading, compared with 233 for whites, an 11-point gap.
In fact, the black fourth graders at the military base schools scored better in reading than public school students as a whole, whose average score was 221.
So what are the differences between the military system and the general public system? Let’s see (boldface mine):
They would find that the schools on base are not subject to former President George W. Bush’s signature education program, No Child Left Behind, or to President Obama’s Race to the Top. They would find that standardized tests do not dominate and are not used to rate teachers, principals or schools.
They would find Leigh Anne Kapiko, the principal at Tarawa Terrace Elementary, one of seven schools here.
Test preparation? “No,” Ms. Kapiko said. “That’s not done in Department of Defense schools. We don’t even have test prep materials.”
At schools here, standardized tests are used as originally intended, to identify a child’s academic weaknesses and assess the effectiveness of the curriculum.
Ms. Kapiko has been a principal both inside and outside the gates and believes that military base schools are more nurturing than public schools. “We don’t have to be so regimented, since we’re not worried about a child’s ability to bubble on a test,” she said.
Military children are not put through test prep drills. “For us,” Ms. Kapiko said, “children are children; they’re not little Marines.”
Damn hippies! Class sizes are also relatively small:
The average class in New York City in kindergarten through the third grade has 24 students. At military base schools, the average is 18, which is almost as good as it is in the private schools where leaders of the education reform movement — Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York; the former education chancellor in New York City, Joel I. Klein; and Bill Gates of Microsoft — have sent their children.
Keep in mind, Bloomberg recently said he would prefer to increase class sizes and have fewer, but better (however one measures that) teachers (I wonder if Bloomberg would have wanted his kids to have 49 classmates. Probably not).
What happens outside the school also matters (boldface mine):
Helping children succeed academically is about a lot more than what goes on inside the schools. Military parents do not have to worry about securing health care coverage for their children or adequate housing. At least one parent in the family has a job.
The military command also puts a priority on education. Bryant Anderson, a petty officer who is stationed at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., is given time off from work to serve as president of the base’s school board and coach middle school basketball and track teams.
Parents with children at the civilian schools where Ms. Kapiko has been the principal have not received that kind of support from their employers. “If Dad works in a factory, he gets three absences and he’s fired,” she said.
A family’s economic well-being has considerable impact on how students score on standardized tests, and it is hard to make exact comparisons between military and public school families. But by one indicator, families at military base schools and public schools have similar earnings: the percentage of students who qualify for federally subsidized lunches is virtually identical at both, about 46 percent.
In other words, the de facto social services support that military families receive reduces the effects of low income.