The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is a three-hour test of basic skills, used to determine eligibility for joining the military. The most commonly used version is the CAT-ASVAB, administered via a computer terminal that has been “modified so that only the keys needed to answer the test questions are labeled,” as explained at the Military.com website. It’s a “Computer Adaptive Test,” which means your answers to the initial questions influence the difficulty of those which follow.
The maximum possible composite score is 99, but the minimum scores necessary for recruitment range from only 31 for the Army or Marines, to 45 for the Coast Guard. And yet, an astonishing new report released by The Education Trust shows that one in four high-school graduates fail to achieve a score above 30.
As the Associated Press notes, this dismal performance lines up with other standardized test results. For example, a 2009 National Assessment of Education Progress discovered 26% of high school seniors performed below the “basic” reading level.
This is just the latest embarrassment for our high-priced, incompetent educational system. Insulated from consequence, and focused on politics and ideology over the demands of education, its endless excuses and demands for money collapse before a hard-nosed military establishment that considers basic fitness to be a binary question. We’re not looking at a report that says one in four children can’t pass that basic exam. It says one in four high school graduates lack the essential skills to succeed in a technological society. “Graduation” means they have been pronounced them acceptable products of the educational system.
You hear a lot of noise about the “superior quality” of union products. The military has pronounced a quarter of the teacher’s union output to be defective. These kids are carrying diplomas, but they can’t handle simple questions about math, science, and reading.
The ASVAB may be the first time these “graduates” encountered an organization unwilling to compromise its standards to avoid hurting their feelings, or making itself look bad. One interesting fact about the ASVAB is that it is only administered in English, for perfectly logical reasons. This could be trouble for the “beneficiaries” of bilingual education, who would have been much better off with total immersion in our common language. The military is keenly interested in people with multiple language skills, but English is the one you’ve got to have.
The Pentagon is understandably worried about maintaining readiness when so many potential recruits are disqualified by worthless high-school diplomas. Our current educational system has been given decades of rising budgets to turn in a diminishing performance. Even the phenomenal educational potential of the Internet has not been enough to reverse their decline. We can put the collected wisdom of the human race on every desktop, but a quarter of our graduates can’t meet the modest, yet inflexible, minimum standards of the Armed Forces.
Both the practice of democracy and its defense are tasks for an educated population. If we can’t see our way clear to introducing competition and accountability to education by privatizing it, maybe we should consider letting the military run the schools.