Students on military bases score higher, researchers say
|||Highlights of findings|
By Nancy Zuckerbrod
WASHINGTON Students at schools on military bases score higher on achievement tests than their counterparts at civilian schools, researchers say, citing higher per-pupil spending, better teacher training and more flexibility for administrators.
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"This is the best kept secret in Washington," said Claire Smrekar, the study's lead author. "You have a very impressive federal education system that works because it respects teachers, it underscores the importance of education in the life of the family as well as the community and it's well supported."
The National Educational Goals Panel, which tracks state and national progress in education, commissioned the study after the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress reading and writing scores showed eighth-graders at base schools outperformed students in civilian schools. The tests are given annually to students in about 40 states.
The Pentagon operates 227 base schools with an enrollment of 112,000 students. In visits to 15 middle schools at bases in the United States, Germany and Japan, Smrekar said researchers found "a system that was so comprehensively excellent."
The report noted high expectations are the norm at base schools, something Smrekar said helps explain the narrower achievement gap between white and minority students. "There's just a general expectation for all kids and all staff," she said.
Base schools also spend more on students than public schools $8,900 per pupil in 1999, $1,600 higher than the national average, according to the report. And base teachers are better paid than most of their civilian counterparts and receive extensive training that is closely linked to their school's educational goals, the researchers found.
The study praised the Defense Department's education division for setting clear goals for base schools, while giving administrators flexibility to carry out their tasks.
"What they say is you're professionals, you've been trained, we're going to let you make the decision how you get there," said John Barth, acting executive director of the panel. He said states and local school districts could learn from that approach.
Severe discipline problems are almost nonexistent at base schools, according to the researchers, who acknowledge many military children grow up in households where discipline is stressed. And soldiers almost always are allowed to take time off from their duties or rearrange their schedules if they are needed at a child's school.
Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, said people in the military believe in the merit system and have an "achievement ethos" that they instill in their children.
"Unfortunately, in my view, that is not always true with the public at large," he said.
Researchers cited some of the following as reasons for higher test scores among students at schools on military bases:
High expectations for students.
Centralized direction with local decision-making.
Sufficient financial resources.
Teachers receive competitive salaries and extensive training.
Small school size, conducive to trust, communication and sense of community.
Continuity of care for children in high-quality, before- and after-school programs.
Military commitment to education and accountability.
Sources: Vanderbilt University and the National Education Goals Panel.