From the New York Times news section:
Schools for children of military members achieve results rarely seen in public education.
By Sarah Mervosh
Sarah Mervosh reported from Fort Moore, Ga., an Army base that is home to five schools.
Oct. 10, 2023
Amy Dilmar, a middle-school principal in Georgia, is well aware of the many crises threatening American education. The lost learning that piled up during the coronavirus pandemic. The gaping inequalities by race and family income that have only gotten worse. A widening achievement gap between the highest- and lowest-performing students.
But she sees little of that at her school in Fort Moore, Ga.
The students who solve algebra equations and hone essays at Faith Middle School attend one of the highest-performing school systems in the country.
It is run not by a local school board or charter network, but by the Defense Department.
With about 66,000 students—more than the public school enrollment in Boston or Seattle—the Pentagon’s schools for children of military members and civilian employees quietly achieve results most educators can only dream of.
On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal exam that is considered the gold standard for comparing states and large districts, the Defense Department’s schools outscored every jurisdiction in math and reading last year and managed to avoid widespread pandemic losses ...
Their schools had the highest outcomes in the country for Black and Hispanic students, whose eighth-grade reading scores outpaced national averages for white students.
Eighth graders whose parents only graduated from high school—suggesting lower family incomes, on average—performed as well in reading as students nationally whose parents were college graduates.
The schools reopened relatively quickly during the pandemic, but last year’s results were no fluke.
While the achievement of U.S. students overall has stagnated over the last decade, the military’s schools have made gains on the national test since 2013. And even as the country’s lowest-performing students—in the bottom 25th percentile—have slipped further behind, the Defense Department’s lowest-performing students have improved in fourth-grade math and eighth-grade reading.
The schools are not free of problems.
Despite their high performance, Black and Hispanic students, on average, still trail their white peers at Defense Department schools, though the gap is smaller than in many states. The Pentagon has also faced scrutiny for its handling of student misconduct at its schools, including reports of sexual assault.
But as educators around the country are desperately trying to turn around pandemic losses, the Defense Department’s academic results show what is possible, even for students dealing with personal challenges. Military families move frequently and, at times, face economic instability.
How does the military do it?
Because the typical military brat lives with his dad, who is a sergeant?
In large part by operating a school system that is insulated from many of the problems plaguing American education.
Defense Department schools are well-funded, socioeconomically and racially integrated, and have a centralized structure that is not subject to the whims of school boards or mayors.
That and the parents are tested for cognitive ability. Since the Korean War, Congress doesn’t let anybody in the bottom 10% on the AFQT enlist. Most years, the military only lets a few in the bottom 30% in. And in the recession years after 2008 (when a lot of parents with kids in 4th and 8th grade today enlisted), the Air Force and Navy demanded 50th percentile or higher on the AFQT for several years.
Also, the military lets a lot of enlistees go after four years and promotes others. And because most in the military are men, there are fewer single mothers’ kids in the DoD schools.
… But there are key differences.
For starters, families have access to housing and health care through the military, and at least one parent has a job.
… While much of the money goes toward the complicated logistics of operating schools internationally, the Defense Department estimates that it spends about $25,000 per student, on par with the highest-spending states like New York, and far more than states like Arizona, where spending per student is about $10,000 a year.
“I doubled my income,” said Heather Ryan, a White Elementary teacher. Starting her career in Florida, she said she made $31,900; after transferring to the military, she earned $65,000. With more years of experience, she now pulls in $88,000.
Competitive salaries—scaled to education and experience levels—help retain teachers at a time when many are leaving the profession. At White Elementary, teachers typically have 10 to 15 years of experience, Ms. Thorne said.
Prudence Carter, a Brown University sociologist who studies educational inequality, said the Defense Department’s results showed what could happen when all students were given the resources of a typical middle-class child: housing, health care, food, quality teachers.
I calculated during the Iraq War that the typical enlistee is around a 105 IQ, and officers higher.
… About a third of students on the base qualify for free or reduced lunch.
In 2016, 52% of public school students qualified.
But the schools are more socioeconomically and racially integrated than many in America. Children of junior soldiers attend classes alongside the children of lieutenant colonels …
Today, Defense Department schools are 42 percent white, 24 percent Hispanic, 10 percent Black, 6 percent Asian, and 15 percent multiracial.
Of the 49.4 million students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools in fall 2021,4
22.4 million were White; (45.3%)
14.1 million were Hispanic;
7.4 million were Black;
2.7 million were Asian;
2.3 million were of Two or more races;
0.5 million were American Indian/Alaska Native; and
182,000 were Pacific Islander.
So the main difference is more multiracial (probably a lot of them are second or higher generation military kids) and fewer blacks. Back to the NYT:
“The military isn’t perfect—there is still racism in the military,” said Leslie Hinkson, a former Georgetown University sociologist who studied integration in Defense Department schools. But what is distinctive, she said, “is this access to resources in a way that isn’t racialized.”
I’d say the big difference is that there isn’t much of an underclass in the military.
… Case in point: An academic overhaul that began in 2015 and has stuck ever since.
Defense officials attribute recent growth in test scores partly to the overhaul, which was meant to raise the level of rigor expected of students.
The changes shared similarities with the Common Core, a politically fraught reform movement that sought to align standards across states, with students reading more nonfiction and delving deeper into mathematical concepts. But unlike the Common Core, which was carried out haphazardly across the country, the Defense Department’s plan was orchestrated with, well, military precision.
I thought it was ridiculous for David Coleman to be able to sell one private citizen, Bill Gates, on his McKinsey consultant’s plan for fixing education, and have Common Core rolled out across much of the country. But Common Core also struck me as less absurd than most educational panaceas that fall into and out of fashion.