"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

Search This Blog

Monday, December 12, 2011

Arne Duncan Needs an Educational Tip from Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz"

The New York Times has an article on the results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test.  Public education is having difficulty closing the achievement gap between black and white students.   

However, there are some schools making good progress on the NAEP test and they outperform the traditional public schools. Where are these successful students learning?  They are taught on military bases.  Reporter Michael Winerip interviewed a principal and a parent (not educational theorists and politicians) and asked them why these schools worked.  How are schools on military bases different than traditional public schools and what can the "experts" learn about the success of base schools?

They would find that the schools on base are not subject to former President George W. Bush’s signature education program, No Child Left Behind, or to President Obama’s Race to the Top. They would find that standardized tests do not dominate and are not used to rate teachers, principals or schools. 

They would find Leigh Anne Kapiko, the principal at Tarawa Terrace Elementary, one of seven schools here. 

Test preparation? “No,” Ms. Kapiko said. “That’s not done in Department of Defense schools. We don’t even have test prep materials.” 

At schools here, standardized tests are used as originally intended, to identify a child’s academic weaknesses and assess the effectiveness of the curriculum. 

Ms. Kapiko has been a principal both inside and outside the gates and 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,” she said. 

Zounds, Batman.  That's how education is SUPPOSED to work:  
  • no federal overreaching, smothering mandate like NCLB (or the waiver), 
  • no endless assessments to satisfy federal testing requirements for diversity purposes (tests instead are for purposes of identifying weakness and effectiveness of curriculum), and 
  • autonomy and innovation of teachers and principals is a job expectation (not a top down pyramid of regulations mandated by the Department of Education, CCSSO and NGA).
What is the achievement difference between base schools and traditional public schools?

In the last decade, the gap in reading between black and white fourth graders at base schools has decreased to 11 points this year (233 compared with 222), down from a 16-point difference in 2003 (230 compared with 214), a 31 percent reduction. In public schools, there has been a much smaller decrease, to a 26-point gap this year (231 compared with 205) from 30 points in 2002 (227 compared with 197), a 13 percent reduction. 

Schools operate differently on the bases and they are working for these children, parents, teachers and administrators.  They have autonomy and support each child (and their parents) based on his/her abilities:

Nevin Joplin, a sergeant in the Air Force, has a son in the sixth grade at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. Sergeant Joplin, who is black and a single father, said both he and his son, Quinn, had been given ample opportunities to succeed. Quinn has been placed in a gifted program, and Sergeant Joplin said he had been treated fairly in the military promotion system. “My records go to the board, my name is blacked out, anything that would identify me is blacked out; they only see what I’ve done and decide on the merits,” he said. 

 How does principal view the children she is responsible for in her base school?

Military children are not put through test prep drills. “For us,” Ms. Kapiko said, “children are children; they’re not little Marines.” 

 Base schools operate under these beliefs:
  • children are children (not units for assessing)
  • teachers can really teach (not follow a list of common core standards crafted by private companies unanswerable to voters)
  • principals can make educational decisions (unlike having to follow the prescribed script from Washington)
  • parents (in their military jobs) and students (in their base classrooms) are graded on their accomplishments

What's absent in the base method of education that's pervasive in public schools?  The base schools don't operate under the assumption of "people and thought control" and trust the adults running the schools are competent and professional:

“We don’t micromanage,” said 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.” 

Imagine what traditional public schools would look like if children were nurtured and the staff and students were not micro-managed.  Our schools would have the possibility of results realized by the base schools.  This paragraph from the NY Times article reminds me of Dorothy's proclamation in the Wizard of Oz: "There's no place like home":

It has become fashionable for American educators to fly off to Helsinki to investigate how schools there produce such high-achieving Finns. But for just $69.95 a night, they can stay at the Days Inn in Jacksonville, N.C., and investigate how the schools here on the Camp Lejeune Marine base produce such high-achieving Americans — both black and white. 

Dorothy had all her answers in her own backyard.  She didn't need to go to Finland or the Emerald City and neither do our politicians and education gurus. 



  1. Another good job Gretchen, I linked it..

  2. Someone did say the military was the last hope for America. Who knew they were talking about the schools. Let's hope Arne doesn't read the NYT or he may start looking to regulate these base schools too.

  3. Anngie, hopefully he's like his boss.. if it's not on his teleprompter.. he won't read it,


Keep it clean and constructive. We reserve the right to delete comments that are profane, off topic, or spam.

Site Meter