Early Education Stands at Attention

Millions of young people are having the door to military service shut before them. According to Mission: Readiness, an organization of retired military leaders seeking investment in young Americans to ensure the nation’s military remains strong, 75 percent of Americans age 17 to 24 are unfit for military service, largely due to failure to graduate high school, a criminal record, and failure to meet physical fitness standards, particularly due to obesity.

According to Education Trust, one in four young Americans does not have a high school diploma; 30 percent of applicants with diplomas lack the skills to pass the Armed Forces Qualification Test and cannot join. Data from Mission: Readiness shows that 10 percent of Americans ages 17 to 24 has a conviction for a felony or serious misdemeanor that disqualifies them for military service. Finally, 27 percent of this age group is too overweight to join the military.

Source: USAG-Humphreys

Early education can help ensure military service remains an option for America’s youth. Pre-K contributes to school success in the short-term of kindergarten readiness as well as the long-term in increased high school graduation rates. Quality pre-K can reduce crime rates, which is crucial considering the number of recruitment rejections due to criminal records. Finally, the social development benefits that start in pre-K are “important to military commanders because this is where we get the ability of our enlisted personnel to be good team players and have the ability to interact constructively with others and control emotions and behaviors,” as noted by Retired Air Force General Norman R. Seip.

A recent report sponsored by the Center for Foreign Relations shed further light on the need for improved education to ensure America’s continued economic prosperity and security. The Center’s taskforce, led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, cited low academic achievement, criminal records, and poor physical fitness and called for “a ‘national security readiness audit’ to hold schools and policymakers accountable for results and to raise public awareness.” Mission: Readiness praised the report by noting that early education can help address each of these issues.

Military service has historically provided a path to the middle class for disadvantaged young adults. Of the 3.6 million U.S. service members, 30 percent of active duty members identify themselves as a minority, as well as another 10.8 percent who identify as Hispanic. Recruits of Hispanic and African-American backgrounds who pass the test do so with lower scores, which can stunt career growth in the armed forces. Many more minority young adults are excluded from service due to educational disadvantages that start early, as seen in our recent post on the lack of pre-K opportunities for Hispanic children.

According to Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, “Too many of us, including educators, have comforted ourselves with the notion that kids who aren’t ready for college can find a place in the armed services. These findings shatter that myth and strip away the illusion of opportunity available to underprepared students.”

What steps can schools and communities take to ensure military careers remain an option for the students of today?

- Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER

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