June 22, 2007 — Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools have taken an approach that positions schools at the center of family life, creating a "total ecology of schooling," according to a recent study conducted by a professor of public policy at Vanderbilt University.
The study, titled "The Social Context of Success: School, Neighborhood and Family Structures that Support High Academic Achievement in DoDEA Schools," prepared by Vanderbilt University Associate Professor of Public Policy, Claire Smrekar, contends that public school systems can learn from the ecological model of schooling embraced by the Pentagon's schools. The study also cites DoDEA students' high academic achievement to an approach to education that supports the whole family.
DoDEA Director, Dr. Joe Tafoya, has first-hand experience in observing the effect of military values on education in his schools.
"I believe that military life has a direct impact on education," he said. "The military places a great emphasis on training and education and service members know they achieve experience and rank through training and education. Even in war, there is a constant training and staff development that instills in the service member the belief and practice that the way to get ahead in their specialty is education. That belief transfers from the military member to their family," he added.
The qualitative case study was based on interviews, observations, and data collected during the 2002-2003 school year at one DoDEA elementary and one DoDEA middle school at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The schools selected for the study were considered representative of the schools on other military bases in terms of size, composition, academic environment and socio-demographics (rank structure, race, and ethnicity).
In addition to the affect of military culture on education in DoDEA schools, Professor Smrekar's study revealed the following major findings:
- The structure of military life on post supports engagement in children's educational lives.
- A corporate commitment too schools engenders strong family-school relationships.
- Teachers and school counselors are perceived as caring, committed professionals who support student and family engagement.
- School size matters.
Tafoya also stressed the importance of the military's corporate commitment to schools and DoDEA's role in fostering this commitment.
"You have to have the support of top leadership - it is critical to the success of our schools," he remarked. "We have a true partnership between commanders, commands, and our schools. We get out regularly and visit commanders and we've learned the value of military traditions - the importance of the office call, briefings, working with subordinates and ensuring communication lines are open. My associate directors, area directors and I make it a point to visit garrison and wing commanders and involve them in major decisions affecting our schools."
Tafoya cited the seats held by military representatives on the Director's Education Council (DEC) and the recent inroads made with military commands regarding school construction and the assistance DoDEA receives from military commands in identifying and establishing school construction priorities, call it a "true partnership."
Professor Smrekar credits that partnership between the military and DoDEA for creating a learning environment conducive to student success.
"The commitment by senior officers to schools is striking," she said. "It is evident that schools are important to family life and the schools and commands work together to create conditions that allow soldiers to focus on the mission knowing that someone is teaching, caring for, and concerned about their children."
Professor Smrekar, commenting on the study's findings, stressed the importance of the relationship between DoDEA headquarters and its school districts around the world.
"There is a top-down, bottom-up approach to education where DoDEA headquarters provides benchmarks for local districts with regard to assessments, teacher professional development and training and curriculum construction," she said. "The goals and guidance come from the headquarters and it's so helpful in tailoring specific curriculum for local districts - the local districts have the discretion to take those benchmarks, goals, and guidance and adapt them to fit a format that best suits them and the achievement of their students."
Smrekar commented on DoDEA's philosophical and operational best practices, and suggested that civilian school districts follow DoDEA's methodology.
"DoDEA optimizes conditions to deliver a true sense of community, familiarity and personal attention in its schools," she said. "School size does matter and while not always true throughout DoDEA, the relatively small school size is helpful. DoDEA also maximizes its resources, spends smartly and maximizes teaching and learning."
According to Smrekar, the most striking attribute of DoDEA schools is the quality of teachers and counselors.
"There is a culture of professionalism," she said. "This high degree of professionalism is consistent throughout the school districts and is especially evident in the teachers and counselors," she added.
Tafoya expanded on Smrekar's observations and provided insight into training and maintaining quality teachers and counselors.
"I think the quality of our teachers and counselors is directly related to culture and expectations," he said. In many of our locations, families are experiencing their 3rd deployment. Our teachers and counselors have been meticulous in evaluating the needs of our students, addressing individual concerns and providing a safe atmosphere that is conducive to learning and achievement.
"It's part of our mission - understanding what families go through and knowing military values. Everyone in our organization realizes we have a unique opportunity to work with a very special group of children."
Study findings also contradicted two myths often associated with DoDEA schools:
- Myth 1: Parent involvement in school-based activities is widespread on post.
Reality: Work lives shape patterns of school involvement
- Myth 2: On-post neighborhoods provide a "Leave It to Beaver" environment.
Reality: Neighborhoods on post vary as contexts for support and stability.
Professor Smrekar stressed the importance of the realities associated with these two myths.For more information about the study visit: