The Education Innovator #40
Volume III
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The Education Innovator
 November 1, 2005 • Number 40
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Department of Defense Education Activity Schools
What's New
Innovations in the News

Education Is First Line of Defense for Department of Defense Schools
The transplanted American students are immersed in the history, culture, and language of their home-away-from home in Mons, Belgium. They are protected by the mons, or mountains, which surround the town. They pet a cast iron monkey, which guards the City Hall (built before Christopher Columbus came to North America), with their left hands for good luck. Each year, to celebrate the city's survival from the black plague in 1349, they watch the "Golden Chariots Procession."

These students also witness history in the making as their fathers and mothers, who are stationed with the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), participate in that history as members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces. Their parents might be among the number of NATO forces from around the world currently amassing to help with earthquake relief in Pakistan, for example.

These children attend SHAPE Elementary School and are attuned to history because the military community there values education. This value translates into high student achievement in the 220 Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools that form a system serving about 97,000 students in the United States, as well as in countries such as Belgium, Germany, Italy, Iceland, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education announced the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) fourth and eighth grade reading and math assessments, and DoDEA schools' performance was stellar. Students' scores as a whole were not only high, but, on closer look, they also revealed a narrow achievement gap.

Data for DoDEA schools is available with NAEP state data. On the fourth grade reading assessment, for example, DoDEA schools' average score was the third highest of all the states (226, with Massachusetts scoring 231 and Vermont and New Hampshire each scoring 227). DoDEA schools had the second lowest percentage of students scoring below basic in fourth grade reading of any state (25 percent). On the eighth grade reading assessment, these schools had the highest percentage of students reading at the basic level or better (83 percent). NAEP math scores were equally impressive, with 85 percent of fourth graders and 76 percent of eighth graders performing at the basic level or better.

High performance on the NAEP assessments has been sustained over time. Since 1996, the average scores for fourth and eighth grade reading, writing, mathematics, and science have all been above the national average.

What is it about this school system that produces such positive results in student achievement?

Even though the schools face challenges similar to those in many U.S. public schools—high rates of poverty; high percentages of minority students; parents with only a high school education; transitory populations (as families move when a parent is transferred to another post); and, very often, single parent households (as a father or mother is deployed for training or combat)—their students achieve. A study conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University PDF(651KB), (TN) found common characteristics of the schools in the DoDEA system that overcome these barriers to student achievement. The schools have

  • Centralized standards with local decision-making;
  • Standardized testing for all students;
  • Curriculum and professional development aligned with strategic learning goals;
  • High expectations for all students;
  • Competitive pay scales and no out-of-field teaching;
  • Quality pre-school and after school programs;
  • Prevalence of smaller schools; and
  • A commitment to parent involvement.
The DoDEA schools' unique blend of centralized control with local freedom means that the direction, overall vision, and consistent alignment of curriculum, instruction, professional development, and assessment are set at the DoDEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. Decision making around day-to-day operations, such as instructional practices and personnel, is controlled at the school level.

Part of the DoDEA central commitment has been to help students develop strong writing skills. For over 25 years, DoDEA has had a relationship with the National Writing Project (NWP) to support this commitment. From 1978 through 1989, teachers participated in NWP workshops and institutes in the United States and abroad. At the time, Joan Gibbons, worldwide coordinator of English language arts, helped teachers establish Writing Projects in Germany and in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Mediterranean Regions. In 1986, Dr. Gibbons examined the NWP connection and asked how many of the teachers teaching in the DoDEA schools had participated in NWP programs. The response showed that nearly all—99.7 percent—had; and the commitment to writing paid off. On the 1998 NAEP eighth grade writing assessment, the percentage of DoDEA students scoring at proficient or higher was 14 percent above the national average.

Other centralized aspects of the DoDEA system include the use of the Reading Recovery program with first graders for one-on-one reading instruction, and the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program (see Innovator, Aug. 8) with older students to encourage them to take challenging courses to prepare for college-level study.

As an attempt to further coordinate among schools in the system, those schools located within the United States are currently testing a technological approach to linking data about students' reading skills. Students in kindergarten through second grade use handheld devices to demonstrate their phonological awareness, alphabetic understanding, and fluency with text in an attempt to make it easier to assess their reading skills on a regular basis. The portable devices are also designed to enable teachers throughout the system to share information and maintain students' progress as the students move from school to school. The program, "Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills," was developed to ensure that students are reading at the appropriate grade level by the time they enter third grade.

The general "corporate commitment" to quality education spills over onto the individual military bases. The military pays for teacher professional development during the summer and the school year. Military personnel are expected to attend parent-teacher conferences and are allowed to volunteer at schools each month. Overall, the system and the culture of the military merge to provide equitable resources to all schools, while valuing and respecting diversity and supporting ongoing education and training for everyone (including parents themselves. This commitment to education is evidenced by the number of military who participate in the Troops to Teachers program, as well).

The respect for diversity—and unity in diversity—is evident in the comparatively narrow achievement gap at DoDEA schools. As one teacher was quoted in the Vanderbilt report, "Your study is looking at why minority students do better. I think the answer to that question is that all our students do better. There are no 'minority' students here."

On the 2005 NAEP assessments, the average score difference for fourth grade reading is 14 points between African American and White students, with Hispanic and Asian students' average scores in between. At the eighth grade level in reading, there is an 18-point difference in the average scores of White and African American students. The difference in these scores is narrower than it was in 1998 when the point difference for African American and White students on the eighth grade reading assessment was 22 points, while the difference on the fourth grade assessment was 18 points.

An example of a stateside school illustrates the DoDEA school system's approach in action. Fort Campbell High School (FCHS) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, is located where the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division is posted. In May 2003, First Lady Laura Bush gave the commencement address, saying, "Congratulations to the faculty of Fort Campbell High. You've done a wonderful job of developing the minds and talents of this class. You've given them values, lessons, love..."

Academic growth of all students is paramount. According to the school's course guide, "The primary purpose of FCHS is to provide a program of study, which includes challenges, rewards, and relevancy to the students' educational and/or vocational goals." The school's student body is diverse and reflects the racial/ethnic make-up of the military as a whole. Of the 560 students, about one-third are African American, 14 percent are Hispanic, 7 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander, and the rest are White.

The school offers a range of academic programs from 14 Advanced Placement (AP) courses for all students, to supplemental help in reading and math. Students who need extra academic help are given support early. For example, entering freshmen with below-average math scores, receive an additional 50 minutes of algebra each day, and a reading lab offers help for those who score poorly on reading tests. The emphasis on academics results in 99 percent of Fort Campbell High students graduating, and nearly 80 percent going on to college.

In addition to classes at the high school, students have been able to participate in dual enrollment at a local university. Academic rigor is further bolstered by the DoDEA Honors Diploma, offered to students in the class of 2008-2009. To earn this diploma, students will need to have completed, passed, and taken the exam for a minimum of four AP courses and will need a minimum grade point average of 3.8 out of 4.0.

The Officers' Spouses' Club at Fort Campbell reinforces the emphasis on academic excellence by sponsoring competitive college scholarships for the sons and daughters of military personnel of all ranks. The scholarships are merit-based, and students are judged on community involvement, personal achievement, and academic achievement (including ACT/SAT scores; AP, advanced, or honors courses taken; and academic honors and awards).

The DoDEA system and the schools themselves see education as a full-time, year round "tour of duty." A website offers "Summer Family Learning in Math and Science," which families can do together as supplemental learning activities during the summer, year round, or while waiting for Mom or Dad to return home. It models the value of learning for all throughout the military community. As Irene Dugdale Lee, a music teacher at Seoul American High School in Korea and the 2005 DoDEA Teacher of the Year, says, " I believe every student entering my classroom has the potential to be a virtuoso and deserves the opportunity to develop his or her musical talents."

Fort Campbell High School was recognized as a No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School in 2001-2002. When SHAPE Elementary School was named a Blue Ribbon School in 2000-2001, Audrey Griffin, the vice principal, said, "It's like being named the high school valedictorian. It validates what we are doing...the honor is a celebration of learning."

Resources: Note: The featured program is innovative; however, it does not have evidence of effectiveness from a rigorous evaluation.


What's New
From the White House

First Lady Laura Bush convened the White House Conference on Helping America's Youth at Howard University in Washington, DC. More than 500 parents, civic leaders, educators, and researchers gathered to discuss problems facing America's young people. Speakers included medical doctors and representatives from such groups as First Things First (see Innovator, Oct. 27). The "Community Guide to Helping America's Youth," released at the conference, is available online. (Oct. 27)

From the U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced the "Furniture for Schools Task Force" to streamline the process of getting furniture and supplies to schools affected by hurricanes. Assistant Secretary Henry Johnson joined the Secretary's Regional Representative Kristine Cohn for a visit to the Second Street Elementary School in Bay St. Louis (MS) to discuss the task force formed by the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Logistics Agency, the General Services Administration, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. (Nov. 1)

Secretary Spellings addressed the National Congress of American Indians Conference. She emphasized that No Child Left Behind has raised the bar for all students and supports closing the academic achievement gap. She added that the release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) state-by-state Report Card showed, "Scores for American Indian and Alaska Native students increased in math at every level over the last two years. And we're also seeing an upward trend in reading." (Oct. 31)

Raising Student Achievement

EdSource, an independent, nonprofit research organization, has released findings from a study of California elementary schools serving low-income students. The purpose of the study was to examine why some of these schools have higher academic performance index (API) scores. Researchers found four practices associated with higher scores: making student achievement a priority; implementing a coherent, standards-based curriculum; analyzing student assessment data from multiple sources; and ensuring an adequate supply of instructional resources. (Oct. 26)


Reach Out and Read, an OII grantee, is providing books to medical providers and others serving families displaced by hurricanes. Medical providers in need of books for their patients can email: Reach Out and Read also has developed new materials to help in the recovery effort: Reach Out and Read for Medical Providers Working with Families after Hurricane Katrina download files PDF (65KB), and Tips for Parents on How Books Help Children Cope with Stress download files PDF (27KB) (Oct. 25)


The National Writing Project has a weblog for teachers to express how Hurricane Katrina has affected them. Sherry Swain of the Mississippi Writing/Thinking Institute describes the devastation in Bay St. Louis (MS), "Trees uprooted, homes splintered...Scraps of fabric clinging to every bush or tree like some kind of ghost community." And she offers tips for coping, "The Tent [on the grounds of a school] is a wonderful community gathering place, sort of like the old country store." Teachers may join the blog as a way of healing the trauma of surviving a natural disaster, sharing impressions and experiences, or documenting the firsthand account of an event in history. (Oct. 20)


Innovations in the News

American History
The Southeastern Board of Cooperative Education Services in Lamar (CO) has received an OII Teaching American History grant. Secretary Spellings said in awarding the grant, "...this is the time to celebrate the founding principles of our great democracy and the men and women who made our freedom possible, as well as those who have fought and continue to fight for that freedom. These Teaching American History grants will deepen teachers' knowledge..." [More-Lamar Daily] (Oct. 18)

First Lady Laura Bush honored Roseanne Lichatin as the 2005 Preserve America History Teacher of the Year. The award is a joint effort of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History (NY) and the "Preserve America" White House initiative, chaired by the First Lady. Ms. Lichatin is a teacher at West Morris Central High School in Washington Township (NJ). West Morris is a recipient of a Teaching American History grant, and Gilder Lehrman partners with Teaching American History grantees. [More-Observer Tribune] (Oct. 20)

Eastern Washington University in Spokane (WA) was awarded a Teaching American History grant for the "Freedom Moves West" program that will involve 60 teachers in year-long graduate seminars, 200 teachers in in-service workshops, and 300 new teachers in summer courses and workshops using digital archives and resources of the Museum of Arts and Culture and the Eastern Washington University History Department. [More-The Easterner] (Oct. 11)

The National Association of Secondary School Principals and MetLife have selected a National High School Principal of the Year who literally stands on rooftops for his students. Mel Riddile once fixed the air conditioning system on the roof at J.E.B Stuart High School in Fairfax County (VA) so that his students would not have to miss school due to hot weather. But fixing ventilation systems is not all that Principal Riddile has achieved: test scores at the school have improved, 40 percent of students are involved in the school's rigorous International Baccalaureate program, and absenteeism has been sharply reduced. [More-The Washington Post] (Oct. 23) [free registration]

School Reform
The Nevada Commission on Educational Excellence has decided to award $78 million in state money to schools that propose innovative approaches to improving student achievement. The Commission was created early this month to receive applications for the funds, and $22 million has already been set aside to start full-day kindergarten during the upcoming school year. The Commission will set up nine review teams for the applications, which must be submitted to the State Education Department before December 16. [More-Nevada Appeal] (Oct. 26)

Annie Herbert, wife of Doug Herbert, OII Special Assistant for Arts Education and Teacher Quality, is a reading specialist at Bonnie Branch Middle School and member of the Howard County (MD) Reading Council. She is also managing "Books for the Bayou's Babies," a book drive for children who have been affected by recent hurricanes. The bookstores, Jr. Editions and Daedalus Books, in Columbia (MD) offer 20 percent discounts on books donated to the effort. The Ellicott City (MD) Barnes and Noble stores will start their holiday book drives early so that books can be donated to the cause before Thanksgiving. [More-The View] (Oct. 26)

Since Hurricane Katrina, writing has helped many students digest what has happened. It has been a way to help them cope with their own tragedy or express sympathy for disaster victims. The Louisiana State University Writing Project organized the "Katrina Writing Project," offering notebooks to displaced people of all ages so they could write down their impressions. One college student from New Orleans wrote, when she left for college she "...was tired of seeing the same old crooked things on my block...Why am I looking back now? Well, when a friend is in trouble, you do not turn your back on her. But in my case it's a city. A city that has given me laughter and tears..." [More-Seattle Post-Intelligencer]


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Last Modified: 08/12/2009