Guam's public school system is modeled on the U.S. system, and education is compulsory for children between 5 to 16 years of age. Public schools in the system are subject to accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. There are 38 public schools—27 elementary, 7 middle, and 4 high schools. Offering various curricula from elementary through high school are 22 private or independent schools that are operated by religious organizations (14 Catholic and 8 Protestant); four are maintained by other groups. Since 1998 the Department of Defense Education Activity has maintained one high school, two middle schools, and two elementary schools on military bases for dependents of military personnel stationed on Guam.
According to a 1999 estimate, approximately 32,000 students are enrolled in K-12 classes in Guam public schools—an ethnic mix of 54 percent Chamorro, 26 percent Filipino, 11 percent Pacific Islanders, 4 percent mixed ethnic, 2 percent Asian, 2 percent Caucasian, and 1 percent other. The language of instruction is English, except for compulsory classes in Chamorro language and culture. In 1998-1999, Guam spent $5,098.91 on each pupil; however, none of the financing for the island's public school system comes from property taxes. Aside from funding from federal grants and programs, all school-related expenses are appropriated from the legislature's general fund, derived mainly from Guam's income tax, whose code "mirrors" the U.S. income tax code (the income taxes of local residents are combined with taxes returned from the United States for all military personnel stationed in Guam) and from "receipts" taxes on tourism-related businesses. Since these taxes do not provide a stable source of funding (they vary with the number of military personnel assigned and with tourist spending), long-term planning for the public schools is difficult.
Public school teachers are certified by the Guam Department of Education, a highly centralized bureaucracy within the Government of Guam that exercises a great amount of administrative control over the various schools. Although numerous attempts to decentralize the system and to institute site-based management have been made, these efforts have not been successful. The institutions of higher education, Guam Community College and the University of Guam, are semi-autonomous agencies of the government operating under the direction of a board of trustees and a board of regents, respectively. Guam Community College provides vocational classes for high schools, classes for developmental and adult education, two-year college courses, and college transfer courses. The University of Guam offers undergraduate level courses and some graduate school programs leading to a Master's degree. The University has an accredited nursing program and has applied for accreditation of its program in education.
Funding continues to be a problem for the educational system of Guam. The economic downturn in Asia during the 1990s, especially in Japan, and military downsizing have been cited as factors in such difficulties as the failure to purchase needed textbooks and a general lack of maintenance of the physical facilities in the schools. But other sources have contributed to these problems and to the poor scores achieved by Guam students on SAT tests. Guam shares the problems of many inner-city school districts in the United States, including an excessive school dropout rate, a high rate of teen pregnancy, juvenile gangs, and a general lack of academic motivation.
One crippling event for the public schools occurred in 1981, when Guam teachers went on strike over low wages. All the teachers who participated in the strike were fired, and uncertified replacements were hired. The effects of that strike are still being felt—there are not enough certified teachers to fill the classrooms, so teachers' aides and temporary (uncertified) teachers are used extensively. Another disaster for the schools was the loss of military dependents in 1998 when the Department of Defense, after many efforts to improve the public school system, finally opened its own schools on the military bases. Funds previously provided to the Guam Department of Education for teacher recruitment and other uses by the Department of Defense ceased. Another serious problem with implications for the public school system has been the repeated threat of loss of accreditation for the University of Guam's undergraduate program, which was put on "probation" in 1984 and again in 1999 by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. The University is a major source of recruitment for teachers in the public schools.
Douglas, Norman, and Ngaire Douglas. Pacific Island Yearbook, 16th ed. North Ryde, NSW, Australia: Angus & Robertson, 1989.
Guam Department of Education. "General Information," 20 December 2000. Available from http://www.doe.edu.gu.
Rogers, Robert F. Destiny's Landfall: A History of Guam. Honolulu: U of Hawaii Press, 1995.
Roth, Susan. "Governor Plans Territorial Tutoring Program." Pacific Daily News, 3 March 2001.
—Richard E. Mezo