DoDEA Director Dr Shirley Miles (US government photo)
I once remarked at a somewhat crowded restaurant that the United States military’s comparative advantage seems to be running schools rather than winning wars. Turned out the guy next to me was a Marine and he took the remark in the wrong spirit. Rapid backpedaling ensued. But snark aside, the fact remains that the DoDEA schools have an extremely impressive record. You can find public school districts that outperform DoDEA on the National Assessment of Educational Progress but they’re invariably districts with very favorable demographics. The military schools’ population is decidedly downscale, “Forty percent of students are minorities, 50 percent of the students eligible for free lunches, and a 35 percent annual mobility rate.” And yet, DoDEA gets good results and has a much smaller achievement gap between white and minority students than you see elsewhere.
It’s not entirely clear what lessons you should take for public school reform from these facts since the DoDEA schools are run in a totally different way from public schools in the United States. But one lesson is that there’s a decent case that public education in the United States really ought to be radically different from how it is; much more standardized and centrally directed rather than seen as basically a local community amenity.
DoDEA does a lot of early childhood, operates a uniform six-year curriculum cycle, has a lot of parental involvement (the ability to issue orders to parents helps), and even though soldiers are often from low-SES backgrounds they and their families have access to very comprehensive social services.