A Tale of Two Government School Systems

Published April 1, 2002

Although the government schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) both enjoy per-pupil funding levels higher than average for public schools run by state and local governments, the two sets of schools produce significantly different levels of student achievement, according to a new report from the Government Accounting Office.

The report, BIA and DOD Schools: Student Achievement and Other Characteristics Often Differ from Public Schools, was produced last September in response to a request from U.S. Senators Robert C. Byrd, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Byron L. Dorgan, and Daniel K. Inouye.

DOD schools were the subject of a recent report from the National Education Goals Panel, which found the schools produced superior academic achievement compared to the average public school (see “Military Knows How to Operate Good Schools, Too,” School Reform News, January 2002).

The GAO report found that government-run schools for Native Americans deliver markedly inferior academic achievement compared to the average public school.

Achievement: Students in BIA schools score far below students in public schools on standardized tests, while students in DOD schools generally score above their peers in public schools.

Teachers: Nearly all BIA and DOD teachers are fully certified for the subjects or grade levels they teach. However, some BIA schools have difficulties recruiting and retaining qualified staff.

Technology: BIA and DOD schools have better access to computers and the Internet than do other public schools, but technical support is more limited in BIA schools.

Facilities: While problems with DOD school facilities are similar to those in public schools, administrators report many problems with BIA school facilities.

Spending: Estimated per-pupil expenditures for BIA schools are generally higher than for public schools nationally, as are those for DOD schools.

Demographics: BIA and DOD students differ markedly in demographic characteristics. One-third of the students in DOD schools are eligible for the federal free or reduced price lunch program, compared to 40 percent in U.S. public schools and over 80 percent in BIA schools. Almost all DOD parents have at least a high school diploma, compared to about three-quarters of U.S. adults and less than 55 percent of Native Americans living on or near reservations. The unemployment rate on or near Indian reservations is very high—over 40 percent in 1999.

For more information …

The September 28, 2001 GAO report, BIA and DOD Schools: Student Achievement and Other Characteristics Often Differ from Public Schools (GAO-01-934), is available from the Web site of the General Accounting Office at www.gao.gov/new.items/d01934.pdf.

The September 2001 report on DOD schools, March Toward Excellence: School Success and Minority Student Achievement in Department of Defense Schools, is available from the Web site of the National Education Goals Panel at www.negp.gov/reports/DoDFinal921.pdf.