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Is the Defense Department Secretly Running the Best U.S. Schools?

EducationIs the Defense Department Secretly Running the Best U.S. Schools?
The education system in the United States has been plagued by numerous challenges, including learning loss, racial and economic inequalities, and a widening achievement gap. Amy Dilmar, a middle-school principal in Georgia, is all too familiar with these issues. However, at her school in Fort Moore, Georgia, the situation is different. The school, which is part of the Defense Department’s education system, has consistently achieved remarkable results, raising the question: Is the Defense Department secretly running the best U.S. schools?

Exceptional Performance Amidst Challenges

The schools under the Defense Department’s purview cater to approximately 66,000 students, boasting outcomes that surpass those of most public schools in the country. Notably, these schools have achieved the highest academic results for Black and Hispanic students, surpassing national averages for white students. Even students from lower-income backgrounds, whose parents only graduated from high school, have demonstrated academic performance on par with students nationally whose parents were college graduates. Furthermore, despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic, the schools have made substantial gains in national tests, showcasing consistent progress over the years.

Breakthroughs in Education

In comparison to the stagnation witnessed in the overall achievement of U.S. students, the Defense Department’s schools have continued to make significant advancements since 2013. Moreover, while the lowest-performing students in the country have fallen further behind, the lowest-performing students in the Defense Department’s schools have exhibited improvement in specific subjects. These outcomes have garnered attention and praise from education experts, sparking interest in understanding the methods and structures contributing to this success.

Understanding the Success Formula

One of the factors contributing to the exceptional performance of the Defense Department schools is their insulation from many of the challenges prevalent in the wider American education system. These schools benefit from robust funding, socio-economic and racial integration, and a centralized system that is not influenced by the uncertainties associated with local school boards or municipal authorities. With over 50 schools within the U.S. and more than 100 international schools, these institutions provide a stable and conducive learning environment for military children, regardless of their geographical location.

Unique Advantages and Structure

While the schools on military bases may resemble typical public schools in certain aspects, they differ significantly in several key areas. Families associated with these schools have access to housing and healthcare through the military, offering a level of stability that supports the educational process. Additionally, the teachers in these schools receive substantial compensation, with the Pentagon allocating a significant portion of its budget to the education system. The financial support not only ensures the smooth operation of the schools but also provides teachers with salaries that far exceed those offered in many public school districts.
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Equal Opportunities for All

The remarkable outcomes of the Defense Department schools underscore the impact of providing students with the resources and support akin to those enjoyed by middle-class families. The provision of housing, healthcare, nutritious meals, and access to quality educators has created an environment that fosters learning and growth. The success of these schools demonstrates the potential of mitigating educational inequalities when students have access to essential resources and a conducive learning environment.

Integration and Equality

The Defense Department schools stand out for their socio-economic and racial integration, reflecting a diverse and inclusive environment. This environment is a product of historical initiatives to desegregate the military, leading to the establishment of integrated schools, primarily in the Southern region. The inclusive nature of these schools is evident as children from different backgrounds, including those of junior soldiers and lieutenant colonels, coexist harmoniously, fostering a sense of togetherness and equality.


The exceptional performance of the Defense Department schools presents a promising model for addressing the challenges prevalent in the broader U.S. education system. By prioritizing vital resources and fostering an inclusive environment, these schools have demonstrated the potential to mitigate the prevailing educational disparities. The success achieved by these schools serves as a testament to the positive impact of providing equal opportunities and essential resources to students, transcending the boundaries of race, income, and social status. _Source Mention: By Erica L. Green, The New York Times_

The Unique Integration Approach of Defense Department Schools

In the era of segregated public schools, the Defense Department has embraced a different approach to education, one that seeks to provide equitable resources and opportunities for all students. While acknowledging that racism still exists within the military, former Georgetown University sociologist Leslie Hinkson notes that the access to resources in Defense Department schools is not racialized, setting it apart from the stark divides in resources seen in many national school districts.

Diverse Student Population and Racial Integration

Defense Department schools boast a student population that is 42 percent white, 24 percent Hispanic, 10 percent Black, 6 percent Asian, and 15 percent multiracial, reflecting a diverse and inclusive environment. This diverse composition not only fosters an environment of acceptance and understanding but also provides a solid foundation for racial integration and collaboration among students from various ethnic backgrounds.

Resource Equality and Access to Opportunities

One of the distinguishing traits of Defense Department schools is the absence of boundaries drawn along lines of class and race, a prevalent issue in many school districts around the country. This absence contributes to a more equal distribution of resources, ensuring that students have access to similar educational advantages, regardless of their racial or socioeconomic backgrounds. Unlike the national trend where nearly 40 percent of Black and Hispanic public school students attend high-poverty schools at a rate three to five times higher than Asian and white students, Defense Department schools stand out for their commitment to resource equality.
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Addressing Conflicts and Academic Overhaul

While not immune to conflicts related to race, gender, and identity, Defense Department schools are characteristically less tumultuous, with major decisions emanating from headquarters. Noteworthy is the extensive academic overhaul implemented in 2015, focusing on heightening the level of rigor expected of students. This effort, which includes an alignment of standards across locations and disciplines, has significantly contributed to recent growth in students’ test scores.

Structured Reforms and Global Coordination

The methodical rollout of the academic overhaul is indicative of the precision and thoroughness synonymous with the military. The introduction of new curriculum and teacher training underscore the commitment to academic excellence, while global coordination ensures a standardized educational experience for students across diverse geographic locations. This systematic approach, orchestrated with military precision, culminated in a successful transformation, marking a departure from the haphazard implementation often associated with other educational reforms.

Implementing a Methodical Curriculum

The emphasis on a systematic curriculum rollout involved meticulous planning and a predictable budget—a key factor in the successful execution of the academic overhaul. The deliberate attention to logistical planning and budgeting underscores the commitment to academic excellence and the effectiveness of a well-organized and structured strategy.

Maintaining Academic Standards

The structured approach extends to the educators within Defense Department schools, where adherence to an approved curriculum and detailed feedback from coaches and administrators are paramount. Collaboration among teachers is mandatory, aimed at fostering a cohesive academic environment and mitigating disparities in educational attainment. This approach seeks to elevate the academic floor for all students, in line with the principles observed in high-performing countries like Finland and Singapore.

A Systemic Model of Improvement

Unlike the “all-star team mentality” often prevalent in American school districts, Defense Department schools embrace a systemic approach to improving all students’ educational outcomes. This contrasts with the reliance on exceptional individuals to drive academic results and underscores the commitment to raising the standards for all students systematically.


In conclusion, the Defense Department’s unique approach to education stands as a model for fostering racial integration, ensuring resource equality, and implementing systematic academic reforms. As the nation continues to address disparities in education, the Defense Department’s schools serve as a testament to the benefits of a structured and equitable approach to education, providing a valuable example for the broader educational community. This article is based on information provided by www.nytimes.com.
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