The No Child Left Behind Act is up for reauthorization this month. There has been much necessary criticism and commentary about its unfunded mandates, forced standardized testing, and takeover threats to struggling public school systems.
But another critical piece of the law is often overlooked.
Section 9528, in about 200 words, requires public high schools to give student information to military recruiters upon request unless the families or students opt out.
The Capital Times story last Friday about opting out at East High School exemplified the type of parental and community action required to level the playing field between military recruitment and options to the military. But much remains to be done, especially in rural communities.
Section 9528 has consistently escaped attention while the other very real and controversial contents of the law preoccupy educators and legislators, distracting them from what is happening daily as uniformed military recruiters patrol the hallways of the 22,000 public high schools in the U.S.
The presence of military recruiters in schools is a tradition that demands more scrutiny of the increased pressure the war in Iraq places on recruiters to meet their quotas, for which they are paid.
Since the law threw open our school doors to new military recruitment opportunities, the responses among the 425 public school districts in Wisconsin have been utterly inconsistent. It is likely that some administrators, guidance counselors, and certainly many teachers in Wisconsin secondary schools never even heard of Section 9528. As a result, the responses have been disorganized, inconsistent, and in some cases totally absent.
There have been cases in which school districts immediately relinquished student information after receiving intimidating letters from a branch of the military, and then backpedaled after angry parents complained.
Some districts have attempted to limit the number of military recruitment visits per year, some have allowed other groups to present optional information to students, some have prepared concise opt-out forms, and some have done nothing.
The growing unpopularity of the war has resulted in reduced standards and greater recruitment pressure on students in rural Wisconsin school districts, where graduation rates are high and kids don't have jobs. As a matter of fact, Wisconsin ranked fourth in the nation in 2006 for producing "high-quality" active duty Army recruits, meaning they graduated from high school and scored in the upper half on the Armed Forces Qualification Test.
There are many reasons to question reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, not least being the imbalance between federal funding of the military in 2008 at $1,228 billion compared to federal education funding at $59 billion. Legitimate concerns are raised over the future of public education in the face of the law's impulse to take over school districts deemed to be unsuccessful.
Section 9528, on its own, is intimidating to school districts.
The extreme punishment that could befall a school district for noncompliance with military recruitment mandates is described by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction in Bulletin No. 02.12 dated Dec. 10, 2002, which outlines "enforcement" of Section 9528.
"In addition to the potential loss of funds for failure to comply with (Section) 9528 (a school) that denies a military recruiter access to the requested information on students will be subject to specific interventions." First the noncompliant school would be paid a visit by a senior military officer. Then "the Department of Defense must notify the state governor within 60 days." Unresolved problems would then be reported to Congress.
What next? Waterboarding the high school principal?
Never mind that recruiters repeatedly violate the privacy rights of minor-age students. Never mind that they mislead, obscure and essentially bribe vulnerable teenagers into military service, which is, in truth, based on waging war, learning how to kill, or to accept being killed. It's not a "career choice" the recruiters are selling. It's a lifestyle.
The picture painted by recruiters is one of signing bonuses, veterans' benefits and college tuition.
It would be good for the DPI to step forward with an educational campaign and some statewide standards in order to provide students and their families a fair chance in the face of the $4 billion spent by the military on recruiting each year.
It would be even better if our elected officials removed Section 9528 from the law. Until then, all we citizens can do is work to learn about and reveal the truth about military recruitment taking place today in our public high schools.
David Giffey of Arena is a Vietnam War veteran and a board member of Veterans for Peace in Central Wisconsin.
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