Taking the Offense on Education: Department of Defense Schools Win Big by Affording Their Students a Wealth of Opportunities

Article excerpt

One of the largest school systems in the country ironically goes virtually unnoticed by many in the education field. This quiet school district also posts some pretty remarkable numbers, yet few give it even a passing thought.

The Department of Defense (DoD) has been running their system of schools since shortly after World War II (stateside schools were already in place) without much fanfare, and with limited funding. But with a 97 percent high school graduation rate, this school system apparently doesn't need a big budget or a lot of hoopla to turn out exemplary students.

The Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) is the general umbrella that covers the Department of Defense's international schools, also known as Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS) overseas, and the stateside schools, also known as Department of Defense Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools (DDESS). This school system is for the children of the men and women in our armed forces, stationed abroad or here in the United States, and the civilian employees of the Department of Defense. About 80 percent of the total enrollment in DoDEA schools is made up of children of enlisted military personnel.

Big System, Small Schools

In all, DoDEA includes 222 publicly funded schools in 21 separate districts located in 14 different countries, seven states, Guam and Puerto Rico. The majority of the DoDEA's overseas schools are located in Europe and the Pacific Rim, while the stateside schools are in the eastern and southeastern United States. Over 8,000 teachers work within this school system and over 100,000 students fill the classrooms each year.

Approximately half of the individual high schools in the DoDEA's system are small, under 250 students. Based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress from 1998 to 2000 for grades four through eight, DoDEA students ranked at or near the top in every subject--reading, writing, math and science. The same holds true for the results of the Terra Nova Achievement Test, which is given to DoDEA students in grades three through 11. In 2002, the 3,066 DoDEA graduating seniors earned an impressive $28 million in scholarships and grants.

While in some ways the schools of DoDEA are quite different from typical civilian public schools, in many ways they are very similar. These schools offer a comprehensive list of course offerings in each of their schools, domestic and abroad. This includes an impressive list of course offerings in career and technical education, which DoDEA calls Professional Technical Studies.

DoD Career Tech

Within the DoDEA's Professional Technical Studies are four strands--Business Computer Studies, Communications Technology, Engineering and Scientific Technology and Health, Human Services and Careers. Falling under Business Computer Studies are accounting and finance, applied business and computer application, business and office principles, computer science, and marketing and management. Under Communications Technology are electronic communications technology, graphic communications technology and video communications technology. The Engineering and Scientific Technology strand includes architectural studies, pre-engineering and electronic studies and network technology. Falling within the Health, Human Services and Careers strand are automotive technology, career decision making, cosmetology and family and consumer sciences. Availability of some of the above courses is dependent on school size and local resources.

John Bearss of the technical education branch of the DoDEA says, "Because Professional Technical Studies encompasses so much, we appeal to a large cross section of students. …