American International Schools: Poised for the Twenty-First Century

By Gillies, Warna D. | Education, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

American International Schools: Poised for the Twenty-First Century


Gillies, Warna D., Education


Nearly a quarter of a million American children attend schools located outside the United States. The children of military personnel primarily attend schools operated by the Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS), while civilian dependents attend privately operated, independent schools. Because these private schools are established by Americans and patterned after U.S. educational standards, they are referred to as American overseas schools or international schools.

Although the American / International schools are referred to as binational in nature, the student enrollment is multinational. Comparing current enrollment figures to data from 1981, American students continue to represent less than a third of total student enrollment in American / International schools (Orr and Beach, 1985; Department of State, 2000). The student body typically comprises the dependent children of U.S. government employees, children of other resident U.S. citizens, members of diplomatic families from various nations, dependents of the international business community, and host-country children. It is not unusual to have 30 nationalities represented in the overseas school student body and a majority of students coming from families that are socioeconomically above average (Lockledge, 1986; Rucci, 1993).

The availability of good schooling is an important concern for U.S. citizens living abroad (Cleveland, Mangone & Adams, 1960; Luebke, 1976). In fact the lack of a suitable school in foreign locations can be a leading factor in rejecting an overseas work assignment (Orr and Beach, 1985). Schools sponsored by the U.S. government are intended to demonstrate American educational philosophy and methods as well as to promote international understanding (Mannino, 1992).

American schools were established around the world to provide U.S. dependents with educational opportunities that were similar to what was available in the United States (Baron, 1990). For example, Luebke (1976) described the historical origins and the rationale for establishing overseas schools:

   Historically, Americans abroad have chosen to establish and operate
   community schools rather than to send their children away for their
   education. In 1888 U.S. citizens living in Mexico established their own
   school to offer their children educational opportunities similar to what
   would have been available to them at home. (p. 13)

American overseas schools operate independently as private institutions, are generally coeducational, and are financed largely through tuition payments. Additional funding is obtained from U.S. and local business, foundations, mission groups, and local governments. They are typically governed by school boards that represent the parents of the children attending the school. The international schools reflect the traditional model of U.S. education: the language of instruction is English and American instructional techniques, curricula, and classroom organization are used (Orr, 1976; Stoddart, 1980).

Many of the overseas schools receive financial aid and support from the U.S. Department of State under a program sponsored by the Office of Overseas Schools. The schools that receive assistance from the U.S. government are designated as "American-sponsored" (Department of State, 1999, p. 1). As of the 2000 - 2001 school year, the Office of Overseas Schools provided assistance to 180 schools in 129 countries. Table 1 identifies general data regarding the "American-Sponsored" schools.

Orr and Beach (1985) maintained that although overseas schools are diverse entities, they share two primary goals: to provide the best possible education for students, and to enhance the mutual transmission and integration of culture between the United States and the host country. From the perspective of the American student, it would appear that these goals are being met. Rucci (1993) described the extent to which American students are more tolerant of cultural differences than their stateside counterparts (also Orr and Beach, 1985). …

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