ERIC Identifier: ED480919
Publication Date: 2003/10/00
Author: Bridglall, Beatrice L.; Gordon, Edmund W.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education, Institute for
Urban and Minority Education
Raising Minority Academic Achievement: The Department
of Defense Model. ERIC Digest.
The U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), a civilian
agency of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), operates two separate but
parallel education systems: the Department of Defense Dependent Schools
(DoDDS) for children of personnel stationed in Europe and the Pacific,
and the Department of Defense Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary
Schools (DDESS) for children living on bases in the U.S.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP),
a national, ongoing assessment of student performance, the average academic
performance of all students in DoDEA schools is high, and the performance
of African American and Hispanic students is among the highest in the nation.
Based on this evidence of success and the fact that DoDEA schools share
some of the same characteristics of many of the nation’s public schools,
a research group at Vanderbilt University examined the high achievement
of African American and Hispanic students in DoDEA schools. This digest
will summarize the results of their study, March toward Excellence:
School Success and Minority Student Achievement in Department of Defense
Schools (Smrekar, Guthrie, Owens, & Sims,2001), along with supporting
research identifying policies and practices that may contribute to the
success of DoDEA schools.
The DoDEA instructional program provides a competitive comprehensive
pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade curriculum and monitors student
progress through the use of standardized tests. DoDEA schools, specifically
DDESS schools, were second in the nation in writing on the NAEP 1998 assessment,
with 38% of all students scoring at or above the proficient level. The
DDESS school system has a higher percentage of African American and Hispanic
students than the national average. African American and Hispanic DoDEA
students outperformed their peers in all states except Maine and Connecticut
on eighth grade reading and writing NAEP tests. Though achievement gaps
persist between white and minority students, the racial/ethnic academic
performance gap is far narrower for DoDEA students than for students nationwide
(Smrekar,et al., 2001).
Students at DoDEA schools also take the Terra Nova Achievement Test,
a norm-referenced test for grades three through eleven. Though comparisons
by race and ethnicity between DoDEA subgroups and national subgroups cannot
be made with Terra Nova scores, results showed a high overall performance
for students in DoDEA schools and for African American and Hispanic students
in particular (Smrekar, et al., 2001).
Students of color account for 40 percent of DoDEA enrollment, a percentage
similar to the proportion in New York State public schools. Roughly 50
percent of all DoDEA students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch,
reflecting the typically low pay scales in the military. Because housing
on military bases is based on rank, and school attendance areas are geographically
determined (as are public school districts), the concentration of low-income
students can vary significantly from school to school (Smrekar et al.,
Military assignments cause frequent family moves, resulting in a mobility
rate for DoDEA schools of 35 percent, comparable to the rate in inner-city
schools. Parents in the military often have only a modest education: 94
percent of the children of enlisted personnel, who comprise about 80 percent
of the DoDEA school population, have parents with no more than a high school
education (Smrekaret al., 2001). Finally, single parent households account
for 6.2 per-cent of all military families, compared with a national rate
of 27percent (Military Family Resource Center, 2001; Fields & Casper,2001).
Factors Promoting Student Achievement
March toward Excellence found that the military setting in which DoDEA
schools operate fosters student achievement in particular ways, but other
factors were also found to have a decisive impact on the success of DoDEA
schools. Among these essential components are:
• Department of Defense Commitment and Expectations. The culture of
order, discipline, and training in the military community creates ideal
conditions for schools with high expectations. The DoDEA demonstrates a
commitment to public education that is substantive and responsive to parents.
Parents are likewise responsible for active involvement (e.g., parent teacher
conferences and volunteering) in their children’s education.
• Focus on High Academic Achievement. The emphasis on high academic
rigor in DoDEA schools is based upon principles of school success described
by Miles and Darling-Hammond (1997): (1) replacing specialized programs
with an integrated plan to serve students in regular classrooms; (2) shared
planning time to develop curriculum; (3) targeted student groupings designed
to meet individual needs and enable personal relationships; (4) modified
school schedules to permit more varied and longer blocks of instructional
time; and (5) creatively redesigned roles and work hours for staff to help
• Flexibility of Organization. DoDEA assures continuity within the system
by determining curriculum standards by subject area and grade. At the local
level, schools can modify their class schedules and teaching approaches.
Teacher teams design and align curricula and determine varying approaches
for struggling students within academically heterogeneous groupings.
• Establishment of Goals. DoDEA uses a Community Strategic Planning
Process for determining specific educational, administrative, and financial
decisions. Stakeholders—including parents, faculty, administrators, support
personnel, community leaders, and military personnel—provide input that
influences the process. The 1995-2000 Community Strategic Plan (CSP)
was jointly generated from the eight goals established by the National
Education Goals Panel and the DoDEA goals regarding governance and organizational
infrastructure. Local schools subsequently develop their own School Improvement
Plans and actively decide how they will achievethe CSP’s objectives.
• Alignment between Central Direction and Local Decisions. This approach
enables local and professional capacity building as well as a partnership
between DoDEA headquarters and parents, teachers, and staff. DoDEA schools
are characterized by the alignment of curricular goals, pedagogy, teacher
support, accountability systems, and performance assessments.The bi-directional
flow of data also enables formative ands ummative decision-making.
• Data-Driven Decision Making. Districts and schools are provided with
detailed analyses of student performance, disaggregated by grade level,
gender, and race. These data enable teachers and staff to evaluate changes
in student performance, determine relevant goals, devise further assessments,
and coordinate curriculum and professional development.
• Teacher Quality and Professional Development. Teachers have considerable
leverage in shaping policies and activities to achieve curriculum goals
and performance objectives. They receive a great deal of high-quality professional
development,with a strong emphasis on training designed to address the
individual needs of schools as determined by student performance on standardized
• A Culture of High Expectations. According to the 1998 NAEP reading
test, 85 percent of African American students and 93 percent of Latino
students surveyed believed that their teachers’ expectations were "very
positive" (the highest ranking), compared to 52 percent and 53 percent,
respectively, in the national sample (Smrekar et al., 2001). In addition,
discipline plans are promptly implemented and parents are aware that their
children’s school may contact their commanding officers.
• Effective Resource Deployment. DoDEA schools spendapproximately $8,900
per pupil, $1,600 (22 percent) more thanthe national average. This figure
is, however, considerably lessthan average per-pupil expenditures in large
U.S. school sys-tems that have comparable proportions of minority students(National
Center for Education Statistics, 2000). DoDEA teach-ers receive somewhat
higher salaries than their U.S. publicschool peers, though compensation
is comparable to theincome of their peers. In addition, materials and instructionalsupplies
are usually available and physical facilities are morethan adequate in
DoDEA schools (Smrekar et al., 2001).
• Small School Size. Research on school reform suggests small schools
(fewer than 350 elementary school students, 600 middle school students,
and 900 high school students) enable increased academic achievement and
positive teacher/student interaction. Small schools also seem to benefit
low socioeconomic status and minority students most (Lee & Smith, 1997).
Middle schools and high schools in the DoDEA are generally smaller than
average middle and high schools in most states (NCES, 2000).
• Pre-School and After-School Programs. Considered a model with regard
to staff training, educational programming, and physical facilities, DoDEA’s
preschool and after-school programs meet the guidelines of the National
Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the National Association
of Family Child Care (NAFCC), and the National School-Age Care Association
(NSACA). The DoDEA model is an example of Gordon’s concept of supplementary
education, which recognizes the health, human, cultural, polity, and social
capital required to successfully enable academic achievement (1999).
• Community Involvement. DoDEA schools are situated with-in military
base compounds that value principles of accountability, commitment, and
discipline. DoDEA schools share aspects of "community organized" schools,
also found in Catholic and magnet schools, which encourage communication
among teachers, staff, and students; enable social membership; and make
the commitment to common goals the norm (Bryk, Lee & Holland, 1993).
It may not be possible in non-Department of Defense schoolsto duplicate
the conditions and characterisitcs of DoDEA schools.There are, however,
lessons to be learned from these schools con-cerning the importance of
high expectations, research-based infor-mation for decision-making, centralized
direction and adaptabledecentralized implementation, and the active use
of supplemen-tary education. Also crucial in the success of DoDEA students
andschools is the sense among students, parents, and employers ofshared
values and shared responsibility for outcomes.
Bryk, A., Lee, V., & Holland, P. (1993). Catholic schools and the
common good. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (ED 365 746)
Fields, J., & Casper, L. M. (2001). America’s families and living
arrangements: March 2000. Current Population Reports, P20-537.Washington,
DC: U.S. Census Bureau.
Gordon, E. W. (1999). Education and justice: A view from the back of
the bus. New York: Teachers College Press. (ED 437 461)
Lee, V., & Smith, J. (1997). High school size: Which works best
and for whom? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 19, 205-228.
(EJ 554 778)
Miles, K., & Darling-Hammond, L. (1997). Rethinking the allocation
of teaching resources: Some lessons from high performing schools. CPREResearch
Report Series (RR-38). University of Pennsylvania: Consortium for Policy
Research in Education. (ED 416 574)
Military Family Resource Center. (2001). Profile of the military community:
2000 Demographics. Arlington, VA.
National Center for Education Statistics (2000). Common core of data,
public elementary/secondary school universe survey, 1999-2000.Washington,
DC: U. S. Department of Education.
Smrekar, C., Gutherie, J. W., Owens, D. E., & Sims, P. G. (2001).
March toward excellence: School success and minority student achievement
in Department of Defense Schools. A Report to the National Education Goals
Panel. Washington, DC: National Education Goals Panel. (ED 459 218)
This digest is adapted from Raising Minority Academic Achievement:
The Department of Defense Model. Pedagogical Inquiry and Praxis, Number
5, which summarizes findings presented in March toward Excellence: School
Success and Minority Student Achievement in Department of Defense Schools
(ED 459 218).