Recruiters' Access to Schools Draws Controversy
On most Tuesday and Friday mornings, Staff Sgt. Carl M. Johnson gets out of bed, dons his dress blues, and reports to his weekly military assignment: the cafeteria at Montgomery Blair High School, here in the Maryland suburbs of Washington.
His job with the U.S. Marine Corps requires him to go out to area high schools with the difficult task of searching out prospective recruits—the few, the proud, the spit-and-polish teenagers who believe they have what it takes to become a Marine.
"The thing I like is the opportunity to talk with young kids," Mr. Johnson said late last month during a break between his pitch to students. "If I can touch just one person and get them on the track of success, that's my gratification."
Military recruiters' access to high school campuses has been a complicated and often politically charged issue. Some school districts, perhaps most notably the San Francisco schools, have barred recruiters altogether. Others have limited where recruiting can take place or restricted what type of student information recruiters have access to.
Pentagon officials say the four major military branches hope to recruit 206,000 young adults this year and another 150,000 reserve and National Guard members—a task that may soon become easier because of an amendment to the K-12 education bill under consideration by Congress.
The amendment, approved Oct. 30 by a House-Senate conference committee, would require all public schools that receive federal funding to allow military recruiters access to students, as well as to provide the military with student-directory information.
Such information would include students' home telephone numbers and addresses. Districts that refused to comply with the directive could risk losing all federal money. A final decision on whether to yank a district's funding would rest with the U.S. secretary of education.
The House-Senate committee was working last week to resolve some of the remaining issues in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, which President Bush has said he would like to see enacted this year.
Even after passage, districts would be given 120 days to comply with the new rule on access for military recruiters.
The Access Question
U.S. Rep. David Vitter, R-La., a sponsor of the amendment, said that the measure was necessary to help sustain the military's all-volunteer force.
"This common-sense amendment simply states that secondary education institutions that receive federal funding must allow representatives of the armed forces, who are sworn to protect and defend the lives of their students and teachers, access to their schools for recruiting purposes," Rep. Vitter said in a statement.
But the measure has its critics. U.S. Department of Defense statistics indicate that 2,000 to 3,000 schools—or about 10 percent to 15 percent of high schools nationwide—currently prohibit military recruiters from operating on their campuses.
Many of those districts, along with organizations such as the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, a group with offices in Philadelphia and Oakland, Calif., determined to oust recruiters from all high schools, are adamant in their opposition to the amendment.
At the heart of the debate is a military that says it needs access to high schools to maintain an all-volunteer force and critics who contend that the recruitment pitch is deceptive and that college should be the primary goal for high school students.
Tell that to Maxim Glouchkov, a 17-year-old junior at Montgomery Blair High School. Wearing a gray T-shirt with the Marines' logo emblazoned on the front, Mr. Glouchkov said that he plans to join up once he graduates.
His reasons for wanting to join the Marines are straightforward. "I like that they stress discipline, they pay for college, and they give you a chance to improve your career," he said.
Mr. Glouchkov said he plans eventually to go to college, but he wants to enroll after joining the military "so they'll pay for it."
But Kevin Ramirez, who coordinates the CCCO's "Military Out of Our Schools" program, contends that recruiters sometimes mislead students into believing they will receive upwards of $40,000 to pay for college after they finish their military stint.
Most students, Mr. Ramirez said, will never receive that much tuition assistance, because to qualify for the top amount, students must score in the top half on the military entrance exams.
"Young people are signing up for the military, not knowing what they're getting into," he maintained, "and they're disgruntled that the recruiters lied to them."
Mr. Ramirez also contends that military recruiters target students from low-income families. The military and its recruiters emphasize job-skills training, scholarships, and travel opportunities specifically to entice those students to enlist, he said.
"This recruitment pitch is going on in low-income neighborhoods," Mr. Ramirez said. "[It targets] poor white kids, poor minorities of color."
"That's absolutely not true," said Maj. James P. Cassella, a Department of Defense spokesman. "We don't target any group per se. We look to recruit young people from all walks of life."
In San Francisco, the 62,000-student school district barred military recruiters from high school campuses more than 10 years ago, said Jill Wynns, the president of the school board.
That ban fits with the district's policy of doing everything in its power to encourage students to pursue a postsecondary education after graduating from high school, Ms. Wynns said.
Military recruiters aren't the only ones barred from San Francisco high schools. Recruiters from businesses also are prohibited from speaking to students.
San Francisco school officials said they are unsure what they'll do if the education bill passes with the amendment requiring districts to give military recruiters access. "I'm hoping that reason will prevail here, and members in Congress will believe in empowering people and respecting individual liberties," Ms. Wynns said.
At Maryland's Montgomery Blair High School, flags from a multitude of colleges are draped across the room at the school's career-information center. Underneath the flags, computer terminals are stationed for students to research different colleges.
During lunch periods, students continuously file in and sit at the terminals and punch away at the keyboards as they explore different universities' Web sites. One corner of the room, however, is designated for students specifically examining the military.
This is the room where Cathy Henderson Stein works. Ms. Stein is an assistant in the career-information center, and her job is to help guide students for post-graduation success. Ms. Stein believes having recruiters on campus is a good thing.
Some students aren't quite ready for college, she said, and entering the military service has helped provide them with the discipline they need to be successful in college at a later date.
Ms. Stein argues that it is important for students to have access to as much information as possible about different options after graduation.
Staff Writer Joetta L. Sack contributed to this report.
Vol. 21, Issue 14, Pages 6-7