For more than fifty years, the Office of Overseas Schools (OS) has been charged with responsibility for ensuring the best possible educational opportunities for dependents of U.S. Government personnel stationed abroad. It is also responsible for strengthening mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Encouraging excellence in elementary and secondary school programs and in educational staff development activities throughout the world helps American overseas schools demonstrate the philosophy and method of American education to foreign educators and students.
OS was established in 1964 under the Department of State Bureau of Administration in order to consolidate the overseas schools program that had been provided under three separate appropriations and administered by three separate agencies until that time.
The U.S. Government assistance to American-sponsored overseas schools began in 1944 with a Congressional appropriation for aid to a small group of schools in Central and South America to support educational programs patterned on those of the United States. Assistance to American-sponsored community schools became worldwide in scope in 1957, with the so-called “PL. 480 funds,” which enabled a number of American community schools to enlarge and expand their facilities, to supplement salaries of U.S. citizen teachers and to provide scholarship aid for local students enrolled in the schools. The Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 and subsequent amendments provided annual support for educational programs that served to enhance mutual understanding.
The schools assisted by OS —193 in number during the 2020–2021 school year — are independent non-profit schools established on a cooperative basis by U.S. Citizens residing in foreign communities. The primary language of instruction is English, and that the schools’ curricula are based primarily on U.S. programs and fully accredited by U.S. standards.
The existence of OS and its role in the establishment and support of the schools and educational programs, particular, in the area of staff development, make clear that the Department of State is vitally concerned with the quality of educational opportunity the schools offer. The recruitment and retention of highly qualified staff for its overseas posts is the Department’s principal motivation in supporting the schools.
OS’s budget is approximately 18 million — this assistance represents support for recruitment of U.S.-trained specialize staff, such as administrators, special needs teachers and counselors, staff development, instructional materials, and student services.
OS is intimately involved in the establishment and support of the regional associations of overseas schools and in the identification and support of highly qualified consultants for in-service training in staff recruitment, especially in leadership positions. It also supports the development of services for children with special needs, evaluation and testing programs, school accreditation, college entrance guidance programs, school plant planning, as well as the introduction and support of technological developments — in short, it serves as a stateside resource for the schools and as a catalyst the development of school improvement activities.
OS encourages support for overseas schools on the part of the U.S. community, and serves as the executive secretariat of the Overseas Schools Advisory Council.