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In an article by Michael Winerip in the NY Times, we learn that the results of the 2011 federal testing program known as NAEP suggest that — once again — schools on the nation’s military bases have outperformed public schools in both reading and math.
NAEP is the National Assessment of Educational Progress; the tests were given to the nation’s fourth and eighth graders.
At the military base schools, 39 percent of fourth graders were scored as proficient in reading, compared with 32 percent of all public school students.
Even more impressive, the achievement gap between black and white students continue to be much smaller at military base schools and is shrinking faster than at public schools.
While the fashion has been for American educators to head to Helsinki in order to learn their pedagogical methods, Winerip thinks it might be more instructive to take a motel room in Jacksonville N.C. and check out how classes at Camp Lejeune Marine base are implemented.
Principal Leigh Anne Kapiko at Tarawa Terrace Elementary, says military base schools do no test preparation. They don’t even have test prep materials.
Standardized tests are used as originally intended in these schools: to identify a child’s academic weaknesses and assess the effectiveness of the curriculum.
Kapiko believes that military base schools are more nurturing than public schools. “We don’t have to be so regimented, since we’re not worried about a child’s ability to bubble on a test.”
In public schools, the federal government can dictate to principals how to run their schools in terms of formal observations of teachers. The government will also base half of those teachers’ ratings on their students’ test scores.
But Kapiko has discretion over how to evaluate her teachers.
“We don’t micromanage,”says Marilee Fitzgerald, director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, the agency that supervises the military base schools and their 87,000 students. “Individual schools decide what to focus on.”
In addition, studies suggest that factors other than what happens in the schoolroom may play a role in the success of military base schools. Military parents don’t have to worry about securing health care coverage for their children. All families have adequate housing. And at least one parent in the family has a job.
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