With the enactment of No Child Left Behind and the prevalence of accountability testing, the nation's public schools have been faulted for concentrating too much on basic skills. If so, this hasn't shown up in the quality of would-be military recruits.
A five-year study by an education advocacy group of 350,000 applicants who took the Army's entrance exam found that nearly one-fourth of them, all high school graduates ages 17-24, failed.
The test, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, measures basic math, science and reading skills. The results are even more worrisome when you consider that 75 percent of those who applied to join the military didn't even qualify to take the test because they are physically unfit — usually due to obesity, never graduated from high school or had criminal records.
Minorities fared especially poorly with 39 percent of blacks and 29 percent of Hispanics failing compared with 16 percent of whites.
And it's not like the military is a harsh grader; passing for the Army is a score of 31 out of a possible 99. The Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard require higher scores from their recruits.
The Education Trust said its report, "Shut Out of the Military," "shatters the comfortable myth that academically underprepared students can find a place in the military." Increasingly, the modern military demands high-tech skills of its members.
The lack of basic education skills has national security considerations almost as dire as the growing percentage of youngsters who are unfit for service because they're too fat.
The recession has been good for military recruiting, but as the economy improves the most desirable high school seniors will have more education and employment opportunities.
It's no longer true, if it ever was, that the military is a last resort for high school slackers.