|Critics of the provision in the No Child Left Behind Act argue that allowing recruiters additional access to students "fosters a culture of violence" and militarizates high schools. Photo by Mark Greenberg|
In a speech delivered last January, President George W. Bush declared that the No Child Left Behind Act, which became federal law in 2002, is "the most meaningful education reform, probably ever," adding, "I believe in local control of schools."
Yet Bush failed to mention an overlooked, but crucial section in the act that wrests control from U.S. school districts and thrusts it into the hands of the feds. A provision in the The No Child Left Behind Act mandates that schools receiving federal funding allow military recruiters to access junior and seniors' personal information - name, address, and phone number - primarily through student directory lists. Parents and students can "opt-out," or ask that the school not release the information to recruiters, but the exemption is not automatic, and many don't understand the significance of the choice.
The Bush administration added an incentive for schools to comply with this portion of the act: Public or private (but not religious) schools that refuse to comply risk losing their federal funding. That is a chance few schools can take: Locally, that would mean an $80 million penalty in the San Antonio Independent School District alone.
Bush signed the act into law just four months after the World Trade Center attacks, and like the Patriot Act, few knew that this amendment existed; even fewer could predict a year later the U.S. would be invading Iraq. While the military contends it needs fresh troops to engage in the U.S.' various worldwide conflicts and "peace-keeping" missions, this provision raises the question of whether schools should serve as mines for military prospectors.
STUDENTS AS SALES PROSPECTS
Among the performance standards, teacher requirements, and testing measures with in the 600-page act, lurk a few brief paragraphs permitting the military to plunder student directory lists. The provision was prompted by the Pentagon, which complained that 15 percent - or about 2,000 - U.S. high schools denied or restricted recruiters' access to their campuses a total of 19,000 times in 1999. In testimony before Congress, recruiters claimed that many high school administrators have an "institutional bias against the military." The Pentagon found a sponsor for the amendment: U.S. Representative David Vitter (R-Louisiana), who later would co-sponsor a bill authorizing the use of force in Iraq.
"Students shouldn't suffer because of an administration's beliefs," Vitter said on the House floor. "This is old-fashioned bad political correctness and anti-military ideology being shoved down the throats of our young people."
Texas Congressman and self-proclaimed member of the Republican Conference Truth Squad, U.S. Representative Pete Sessions (R-Dallas), co-sponsored the amendment to the act, calling the military "fabulous not only as a career, but as an opportunity for public service."
Neither Vitter nor Sessions served in the military.
The military contends that without access to school directories, it cannot adequately recruit, and as a result, the number of U.S. troops will be depleted. "On behalf of the armed forces we have to recruit to have continued success for an all-volunteer force," said Marine Staff Sergeant Ronna Weyland, who works in marketing and public affairs of the San Antonio Battalion. "The whole point of the program is it just gives us equal access as the colleges because not every kid goes to college."
Yet, the military apparently sees higher education not as an option for students, but a barrier to recruiting. Rethinking Schools, an education newspaper, reported that Marine Corps Master Sergeant John Bailey told Congress that "Our war starts at school. Counselors would rather sell college."
Furthermore, critics point out that the military already had extensive access to most school campuses: Students could arrange meetings with recruiters, who could also set up booths at career fairs, establish JROTC programs, and administer Armed Services aptitude tests. (A few school districts, such as those in Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, banned the military because of its discrimination based on sexual orientation.)
SEPTEMBER 23 IS NATIONAL OPT-OUT DAY
Organizers throughout the United States have designated September 23 as National Opt-Out Day. Parents, guardians, and students are encouraged to send letters to their respective school district offices and high schools denying permission for the military to access personal information through directory lists.
The letter should contain the name of the student, and state that no information should be released to the military according to federal provisions detailed in the No Child Left Behind Act.
Ives said the military already purchases student information from brokers. "There is a lot of leakage that parents might not be aware of. Take the SAT, go on a list. Buy a yearbook, a class ring, go on a list. The Army buys these lists.
"Recruiters are the sales force, and they work in the same way as any salesperson would work," Ives said, adding that recruiters have territories centered on high schools. "The key is contacts."
To entice potential soldiers, recruiters emphasize the educational benefits that can accompany military service. Given the increasing cost of college and the sluggish economy, it is a difficult prospect to turn down.
Some soldiers do use the GI bill to attend college. But others never reap the benefits, and their $1,200 deposit - which every soldier who enrolls under the Montgomery GI Bill must pay - reverts to the military.
Army Times reported that the military took in $720 million more from GIs in non-refundable deposits than in college benefits it paid out. A 1993 Veterans Administration report revealed that veterans earn less than non-veterans, because their job skills in the military don't always translate to the civilian world.
Dick Cheney, then-Secretary of Defense under Bush I, succinctly stated the purpose of the armed force: "The reason to have a military is to be prepared to fight and win wars. It's not a jobs program."
Ives said recruiters aren't allowed to mislead students about the perks, but that what recruiters don't say is as important as what they do. "We're dealing with 17-to-19-year olds who don't know what questions to ask and aren't seeing some of the subtlies being told."
So far, access to the directory lists isn't translating to a signifcant increase in South Texas recruits for the Marines and the Army. (The Navy and Air Force did not return calls to the Current.)
San Antonio's recruiting area extends from Round Rock to Brownsville and west to Del Rio. Army public affairs officer Lauren Hall said that last year the region's recruiting class - which includes college graduates - numbered 1,662; this year it is 1,252. "Every recruiting tool helps," Hall said via e-mail. "Although this hasn't helped the SA recruiting batallion produce a significantly higher number of high school seniors who didn't already have a high propensity to join the Army."
The Marines have recruited 353 high schoolers in San Antonio this year, which is close to last year's total of 405.
There has been little outcry among San Antonio schools, but it is difficult to determine if the dearth of complaints is due to the city's dominant military culture, or because parents and students don't know recruiters have extra access to their private data.
In San Antonio districts, the opt-out notice is included in the student handbook, which is sent home for parents and students to peruse. The student then must sign a paper stating he or she has read the handbook and return the statement to the school within seven to 10 days.
Critics contend that the opt-out notices get lost in the flood of paper that deluges parents and students at the start of the school year.
None of the seven school districts contacted for this article reported any opt-outs this school year, although not all statements had been returned. The Harlandale school district on the city's South Side reported only one opt-out last year.
Harlandale's assistant superintendent for administration Joe Jesse Sanchez said he doesn't anticipate complaints from the district's 912 juniors and 745 seniors. "It'a a matter of conscience on the part of the student."
Critics of the provision contend that Latinos, the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S., are being overrecruited. While Latinos comprise 15-18 percent of the enlistment-age population, Army Times reported the Army's goal is to make Latinos 22 percent of its quota.
"They are the lynchipin in the Pentagon's plans to fight future wars," said Rick Jahnkow of the Committee Opposed to Militarization and the Draft. "The military has openly stated it's targeting Latinos for overrecrutiment."
Some parents and students want the provision changed so that the lists aren't automatically available; instead parents and students must "opt-in" to provide their personal information to the military.
The stealth nature of the provision is troubling, as is its tendency to blur the role of schools as educational institutions. "We can't be so sucked up in patriotism that we're overlooking that the purpose of our schools is to educate kids and not be a pipeline for the military," Ives said. "Their first obligation is to the students, not the recruiters." •