Ever wondered about this? I don’t know what got me thinking about it, really, but I started wondering about technology in Department of Defense schools. Maybe it’s because it’s Labor Day weekend and I always associate Labor Day with Memorial Day (sort of an alpha and omega thing). And of course, Memorial Day with the military. So I just thought I would do a little poking around…I hadn’t really thought about this before.
It turns out that Department of Defense Education Activity (the full name!) schools are, as a group, probably the best funded and best outfitted public schools that we have. There are 194 DODEA schools serving over 93,000 students worldwide. And DODEA schools are way ahead of regular public K12 schools in the US when it comes to technology implementation.
When DODEA kids went back to school in the fall of 2011, many of them received laptops or e-readers. In June of 2011, DODEA received $397M in funding for school upgrades . That was only the first installation of a $3.7B plan to modernize 134 of those 194 schools through 2016. That’s “B” as in BILLION. For 134 schools that works out to an average of $27.6M per school. That is, in short, a lot of dough. Many of these upgrades are to the physical structures, but also include modernization efforts for the internet, individual laptops, tablets for special education students, more virtual classes, and even the installation of more modern furniture that encourages student collaboration [2, 4]. The approval of this $3.7B raises the per student spending for DODEA from $51,000 annually in 2011 to $81,000 annually in 2016 .
If you haven’t figured it out by now, DODEA schools are funded a little bit differently than the schools in your neighborhood and mine. DODEA schools are funded by the Department of Defense; 100% of their funding is federal. Quite unlike our neighborhood public schools that are funded through a combination of federal, state and local monies, typically taxes. The average per student spending for regular public schools in the US was $10,499 in 2009 (most recently available census data; Sparks, 2011). This was up by 2.3% from 2008 and the increase is attributed mostly to the federal stimulus programs.
I think that’s a pretty big gap, don’t you? The DODEA spends between five and eight times as much per student than regular public schools for what is still considered to be a “public” education. And some of the problems being upgraded are, as Tritten reports “not a safety risk but do mean some schools get by with electrical systems that are inadequate, must open windows for fresh air, and have to live with odorous restrooms . I wonder what some of the teachers who work at inner-city schools in D.C. and Chicago would say to that.
I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I think the teachers and 93,000 kids at DODEA schools don’t deserve to have all of the updated technologies and modernized, clean, safe schools. I just think that the other 49.8M kids who are going back to regular public schools this fall deserve the same advantages. After all, those 49.8M make up 99.8% of the kids we, as a society, are responsible for educating. I went into this research project expecting to find disparity; frankly, I didn’t expect to find this much.
 Sanchez (2011). DOD Schools engage students with technology.
 Sparks (2011). Census Bureau: Schools spending $10,499 per pupil.
 Svan (2012). Students at DODEA schools returning to changes, challenges.
 Tritten (2011). DODEA gets $397 million for improvements at 9 schools in U.S., Europe.
- DoD Schools rank near top; DoD to change things (waronterrornews.typepad.com)
- DODEA Focuses on Teacher Development for New School Year (defense.gov)