DOD Schools Prove Parental Involvement Works
U.S. Military Base Grade Schools Succeed in Narrowing
Achievement Gaps Between Disadvantaged Students and Their Peers
Dear House Republican Colleague:
Skeptics say America’s public schools can’t
succeed in narrowing the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and
their peers. But the CBS program 60 Minutes recently found living
proof that they can. Where? On America’s military bases.
About 100,000 American K-12 children attend 200
schools run by the U.S. Department of Defense on military bases in the United
States and abroad. And as CBS reports, “[in] subject after subject,
their students' test scores are among the best in the nation.”
The on-base school at Kentucky’s Fort Campbell,
a major U.S. Army base, has the narrowest achievement gap between
minorities and whites of any school in the entire country, 60
Former Democrat National Committee Chairman Roy
Romer, now superintendent of the Los Angeles public school system, claims
schools such as Fort Campbell “[don’t reflect] the world that we live in.”
But at Fort Campbell, CBS notes, “nearly half the students are black and
Hispanic. And you can't tell the colonel's kid from the private's kid. Three
quarters of the students are children of enlisted men and women. Many of
those families barely clear the poverty line.” Sixty-four percent of the
Fort Campbell base students qualify for free and reduced lunch services,
according to school officials.
Fort Campbell education officials say the most
important ingredient for Fort Campbell’s success isn’t money; it’s
parental involvement. As 60 Minutes notes: “[W]here parents
are involved, students do well. Where they're not, achievement suffers.”
The No Child Left Behind Act (H.R. 1),
signed into law by President Bush in January, empowers public school parents
with new data and new options and encourages them to take a direct role in
the education of their children. After 35 years of increasing education
spending, Washington is finally beginning to put parents back in the driver’s
A transcript of the 60 Minutes story is
attached. As we work with parents, teachers, school officials, and state
officials to implement these vital reforms, we should bear the lesson of Fort
Campbell in mind: closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged
students isn’t an impossible dream. It starts with encouraging parental
involvement and giving parents the tools they need to help their children
House Republican Conference
Education & the Workforce Committee
Member of Congress
Copyright 2002 Burrelle's Information Services
CBS News Transcripts
SHOW: 60 Minutes (7:00 PM ET) - CBS
April 21, 2002 Sunday
LENGTH: 2393 words
HEADLINE: Pentagon schools; Schools on military bases have high
student success rates
ANCHORS: LESLEY STAHL
LESLEY STAHL, co-host:
For more than 30 years people have been trying to figure out how to fix
public education in America. We've looked at charter schools and magnet
schools to vouchers and school choice. Now we're looking to a steady diet of
standardized tests to do the trick. One place no one would ever think to look
is the Pentagon. Why would we?
(Voiceover) While everyone knows that the US military trains soldiers for
war, how many know it also trains its children for life?
(Soldiers performing exercises)
Unidentified Teacher: (To students) Try to use some of the vocabulary words
that you see hanging around the room. STAHL: (Voiceover) It turns out that
the Department of Defense operates some 200 public schools on bases in the US
and overseas, with 100,000 students from pre-K to high school. If that's a
surprise, here's another, in subject after subject, their students' test
scores are among the best in the nation.
(Students in classroom)
STAHL: Who'd have thought the Pentagon?
Ms. CLAIRE SMREKAR: I know.
STAHL: The military?
(Voiceover) Vanderbilt University education professor, Claire Smrekar, has
just completed a study of the Pentagon schools. Until she began the research,
she hardly knew they existed.
(Students raising flag; Claire Smrekar; military high school)
Ms. SMREKAR: We thought that some of these schools might be highly
militaristic, might be very sterile. And we found just the opposite. First of
all, the kids look like any other kids. We've got the earrings, we've got the
baggy pants. But what's different, there's a sense of focus on education.
There is quiet in the corridors.
STAHL: (Voiceover) The corridors are quiet and disciplined, so is the whole
environment. These kids live at Fort Campbell, an Army base in Kentucky.
Parents here let their kids walk to school or wander off down the street
without a worry.
(Students in a variety of activities)
STAHL: It's almost like Disneyland, in a way.
Ms. SMREKAR: Exactly. Or as one commander said, 'It's "Leave it to
STAHL: (Voiceover) But on "Leave it to Beaver," everyone was white
and well-to-do. Here, where anyone who lives on base can enroll, nearly half
the students are black and Hispanic. And you can't tell the colonel's kid
from the private's kid. Three quarters of the students are children of
enlisted men and women. Many of those families barely clear the poverty line,
according to Fort Campbell school superintendent, Ray McMullen.
(Students in a variety of activities)
Mr. RAY McMULLEN: We have, qualifying for services of free and reduced lunch,
64 percent of our kids.
STAHL: Sixty-four percent in lower income levels?
Mr. McMULLEN: Yes. That's correct.
STAHL: (Voiceover) But here, low income doesn't mean low achievement.
Mr. McMULLEN: You can look at our kids and you can't tell what economic level
STAHL: By their scores.
Mr. McMULLEN: By their scores. Some of the poorest families have found great
success in our schools.
STAHL: (Voiceover) And the Pentagon has accomplished something which has
eluded public schools almost everywhere else, narrowing the achievement gap
between minority kids and white kids.
(Students in library)
STAHL: Tell me if this is true, that you have the narrowest gap between
minorities and whites in the entire country? not the world that we live in.
Mr. McMULLEN: That is correct.
STAHL: (Voiceover) That means that among minorities, their students score at
the very top of national tests in reading, writing, and math, which raises
the obvious question: Can this be exported?
(Students using computer)
STAHL: Parents everywhere would like to have what you have here: high scores,
safe environment, disciplined classrooms. Can it really, honestly, be
duplicated out there in the real world?
Mr. McMULLEN: Absolutely. It can be duplicated everywhere in America. It sure
STAHL: You are such an optimist.
(Voiceover) How are you going to reproduce, for instance, the military's
50-year record of racial integration?
(Students in classroom)
STAHL: How many of you will go to college?
(All students raise their hands)
STAHL: These high expectations regardless of race are the product of a
culture as close to color-blind as anything we have in America. And just try
reproducing in the inner city the small schools they have on base, or the big
budgets. Per-pupil spending here runs 15 percent above the national average.
Another thing: Every kid here has a parent with a job, and at least a high
school diploma. But there is one thing that could be duplicated in every
community in the country: parent involvement. Everywhere we looked in the
Pentagon schools, we saw parents--gobs of them.
(Students, teachers and parents in school)
STAHL: On the list of things that you would rank as important to success for
a child in school, where does parent involvement fit?
Mr. McMULLEN: Absolutely at the top.
STAHL: Number one?
Mr. McMULLEN: Number one.
STAHL: More than the money that the school has?
Mr. McMULLEN: Right.
STAHL: More than paying for a great teacher with a master's degree?
Mr. McMULLEN: Right.
STAHL: (Voiceover) There's a wealth of research to back him up, where parents
are involved, students do well. Where they're not, achievement suffers. From
"Muffins from Mom" events in the morning, to lunchtime concerts on
the lawn, to family reading nights, to management committees; principals and
teachers are under orders direct from Washington, from the Pentagon, to
(Students, parents and teachers interacting; Ana Carmona)
Ms. ANA CARMONA: You can make your butterflies any color you want.
STAHL: (Voiceover) Parents like Ana Carmona, wife of an infantry sergeant,
are free to wander into their kid's classrooms any time they like,
(Carmona in classroom)
Ms. CARMONA: I don't feel like I drop off my kids, and it's the teacher's
responsibility to do everything. I feel obligated to help out in this. And
it's the working together that makes this work.
STAHL: At Fort Campbell, parents are right in there, and not just helping
their own kids: Nolly Gibbs in the computer lab; Meg Wilkens right across the
hall in her son's sixth grade class. They're both married to Army officers.
The soldiers themselves are involved parents, too. They're actually given
time off to go into the schools. Valerie Tisby is an Army medical technician.
She's also a single mother and her daughter, Kelly, has a learning
(Nolly Gibbs; Meg Wilkens; students; Valerie Tisby; Kelly Tisby)
STAHL: You're all involved in this school, you all care. Can this be exported
to an urban school?
Ms. NOLLY GIBBS: Yes.
Ms. VALERIE TISBY: I think it can but it's like...
Ms. GIBBS: Yes.
STAHL: You're all saying it can, and yet I look at it and I say, 'Where do
you find the time to go into the school?' The military lets you.
Ms. TISBY: Yeah.
STAHL: I mean, we can't lose sight of that. They want you in the school.
Ms. TISBY: Right.
STAHL: It's wonderful but I keep thinking about someone like you who's not in
the military. And I think, 'Boy, that parent is going to have an awfully
Ms. TISBY: Well, my mother was a single parent and she raised four of us in
public schools. She worked two jobs and when there were the school plays, the
recitals, mommy was there.
STAHL: And she did it.
Ms. TISBY: She was there. So, you know, it can be done.
STAHL: But in school after school, urban, suburban, and rural, parents aren't
doing it. In the Army, they're ordered to and if they don't get involved,
they'll hear about it. The superintendent can call their commanding officer
You have the option of going to his commander.
Mr. McMULLEN: Yes we do but we very seldom do that.
STAHL: But you have that option.
Mr. McMULLEN: Oh, yes we do.
STAHL: And you, over the years you have done that.
Mr. McMULLEN: Yes, that's correct.
STAHL: (Voiceover) And he insists that can be done in the civilian world,
Mr. McMULLEN: When I was in public schools and I had one of the largest
industries in America right out my back door...
STAHL: Which was?
Mr. McMULLEN: Eastman Kodak. And I--without hesitation--have called on
several occasions their supervisors and asked them to help me get the parents
into the school.
STAHL: Did it work?
Mr. McMULLEN: It worked, absolutely.
STAHL: So far a lot of companies aren't doing anything close to this.
Mr. McMULLEN: But they can.
STAHL: (Voiceover) Not everyone thinks it's so easy to duplicate. Roy Romer
used to be governor of Colorado and chairman of the National Education Goals
Panel. Now he's superintendent of the huge, Los Angeles school system.
Mr. ROMER: There's an expected behavior of parents in the military. That's
wonderful. But it's not the world that we live in.
STAHL: It's not the real world?
Mr. ROMER: Off, off the base.
STAHL: (Voiceover) In Romer's real world of labor troubles and budget battles
and overcrowded schools, everybody gets blamed except the parents.
(Children outside of school)
STAHL: We hear about the teachers and accountability. We hear schools need
more money. We hear all kinds of other problems, but we don't hear, 'Hey,
come on, parents, come up to the plate.'
Mr. ROMER: Let me be frank about it. I think you don't hear about it because
we don't want to acknowledge it. We don't want to acknowledge the degree to
which the family has--has disintegrated in some ways.
STAHL: (Voiceover) And here's a dirty little secret: Lots of regular public
schools, maybe most of them, don't really want parents around.
(Teacher and students in classroom)
STAHL: Did any of you, in--in your other schools, feel that the school did
not want you there?
PANEL: (In unison) Yes.
STAHL: That--that they just put up a barrier?
Ms. CARMONA: You're kind of an outsider, and it's more like intruding and
making--imposing yourself to be a part of your child's education.
STAHL: I could just see the teachers in some schools: 'Uh-oh, parents.
Ms. TISBY: Yeah, you're right.
Ms. WILKINS: We just came from another school district that, as Ana just
said, you really felt like you had to impose yourself to be in there as much
as you wanted to be there.
STAHL: (Voiceover) At many schools even the buildings send that "stay
(Students outside of school)
Mr. ROMER: Every time I walk into one of my schools out here, I see three
signs on the pillars out front saying 'Beware: Don't enter before you check
in with the principal.' We have a hostile atmosphere of some type.
STAHL: I just--I had to sign in to get through the gate at this school.
Mr. ROMER: Yeah. I mean, we ought to have atmosphere where you're welcome.
STAHL: (Voiceover) Of course, there are good reasons for the security
measures, but parents aren't the enemy, and they're often made to feel as if
STAHL: You are at a college of education. What--what is taught, when teachers
go to school, about parents?
Ms. SMREKAR: That they are scary, that they are threats, that they are to be
avoided. Colleges of education do not teach teachers to develop productive
relationships with parents. It's not done.
STAHL: (Voiceover) That's a pretty remarkable admission, that teachers are
trained to push parents away. And it makes the attitude of the Pentagon
teachers, like Michelle Todd, all the more notable.
(Students and teacher in computer lab)
Ms. MICHELLE TODD: The parent knows that child like I will never know that
child, and I need them to make it complete. I need the parents.
STAHL: (Voiceover) You almost never hear about teacher burnout at the base
schools. Maybe it's because they're well paid, or because they love the
disciplined atmosphere. But they say the biggest reason they like teaching
here is the productive relationship with parents.
(Teachers, students and parents in classrooms)
Ms. TODD: I think we really have an underlying attitude. If you want to just
come on in and sit for 15 minutes and go eat lunch with your child, that's
fine, we're not going to question it. Go ahead and go. I think that is
Ms. SMREKAR: Bringing parents in, and parental involvement becomes part of
the art and craft of teaching in DOD schools. And that is what is very
impressive. But again, that is transferable. It's a mind-set. It's a--it's a
way of thinking about parents as partners, and not as adversaries.
STAHL: (Voiceover) That partnership means so much to parents that at Fort
Campbell there is an 18-month waiting list for base housing. Much nicer homes
are available just outside the fence, but if you live there, your kids can't
attend the base schools.
(Children in a park; woman watering yard; homes)
Ms. GIBBS: We're willing to have a little smaller house, make some
sacrifices, for the school.
STAHL: But you could live off base and buy your own home.
Ms. GIBBS: And have equity, yes. All those things, yes. That is a lovely
STAHL: But when you weigh and measure, you'll take the smaller house, the
lesser house, the no equity in the house?
Ms. GIBBS: Yes.
STAHL: Because the schools, in your view, are that much better.
Ms. GIBBS: Yes.
STAHL: (Voiceover) American cannot be remade in the image of an Army base.
"Leave It To Beaver" was canceled a long time ago. Still, there is
a lot to be learned from these schools. And all you employers out there,
looking for a stable, motivated work force, take note.
(Students leaving school; children playing in a park; children singing in
school with parents watching)
STAHL: How important are these military schools to keeping people in the
Ms. TISBY: Very important.
Ms. GIBBS: I think--I think it's a big issue.
Ms. TISBY: Very important. I was going to get out of the military, I really
was. But because my daughter is doing so well and stuff, I would rather
sacrifice and stay here.
STAHL: You're going to re-enlist so that your children can stay in these
Ms. TISBY: So they can stay in these schools, yes. My daughter made the A and
B honor roll twice. She has never done that, never.