Unprepared for the Military?

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Not only are American high school students unprepared to go to college, they’re not even good enough for the enlisted ranks of the military. Maybe. According to an article by RiShawn Biddle in the American Spectator:

Much of the discussion about America’s abysmal public schools has focused on how decades of declining literacy and academic performance weigh heavily on the nation’s global competiveness (and on the wallets of taxpayers burdened by decades of near-unchecked spending increases and unfunded teachers pensions).

But increasingly, the nation’s educational crisis also weighs heavily on national security and defense. Military leaders have learned all too well from their own analysis of dropouts and General Education Development (GED) recipients that poorly-educated kids make terrible soldiers — especially in an age in which math and science skills are as important in operating military electronics as they are in high-skilled white- and blue-collar jobs.

Apparently some 23 percent of those interested in joining the military can’t earn a high enough score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to be considering for military service. This means, according to Biddle, that these kids were unable to answer questions like “If three plus X equals six, what is the value of X?”

This sounds pretty serious, but actually there are actually always a significant number of people who aren’t “good enough” for military service. That doesn’t have anything to do with American high schools; that’s what happens with a volunteer army.

“Unprepared for military service” doesn’t actually mean some objective level of stupidity that disqualifies one from being a good solider. In fact, the military determines the ASVAB cut-off point relatively arbitrarily, based simply on the number of new soldiers it needs every year. Like colleges and various American companies, the American military becomes more selective the fewer people it needs. As Biddle writes:

Over the past five years, the Pentagon has even been forced to lower its own academic standards (including a requirement than 90 percent of troops had to be high school graduates) in order to meet higher recruiting quotas resulting from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the percentage of high school grads recruited into the Army, for example, declined from 84 percent in 2004 to 74 percent in 2008. Starting in 2005, the Pentagon launched GED Plus, a program in which dropouts could obtain GED certificates while enlisting. While the Army halted its GED recruiting last year, GED enlistment efforts continue throughout the rest of the military.

Well, right, but that’s because we’ve got two losing wars to fight. If we returned to actual peace the military would need less enlistees and could be more selective. So it would change the cut-off score. And then maybe 30 percent of those who take ASVAB wouldn’t earn a sufficient score. That’s because the score would be higher.

ASVAB isn’t a measure of the things one needs to know to be successful in the military. It’s just another multiple choice intelligence test. The things that truly indicate whether or not one will be successful in the military probably have a lot more to do with ambiguous character traits. Different branches of the military, in fact, use different cut-off numbers.

Currently 23 percent of people who want to join the military fail to earn sufficient scores on ASVAB. That’s obviously rather bad for those 23 percent but it’s not at all bad for the military. In fact, if American high school students were better educated, that doesn’t mean 100 percent of those seeking to perform military service would get in. No, it just means the military would raise the minimum ASVAB score needed for selection. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer