Military Ready: How States Can use K-12 School Systems to Help Students Become Better Military Recruits

During CSG’s 2017 National Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, state leaders asked Deputy Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education Jason Botel what skills has the Department of Defense identified new recruits lack that states could consider addressing in their K-12 school systems.

DOD and the Department of Education’s Military Affairs team provide a comprehensive answer to what our federal partners have identified K-12 students need to be military ready when they graduate.

Department of Defense

A high school diploma and good citizenship are the key elements to a successful enlistment for military recruits. The Department of Defense Civilian Employment Office notes there are a variety of occupations within the DOD civilian workforce that are key to supporting the DOD mission.  Currently, candidates with education and experience in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as well as in cyber security, are in high demand.

In addition to successful completion of their elementary and secondary education and good citizenship, youth who may aspire to careers in DOD should work on honing their communications skills (public speaking and writing) and develop good critical thinking and problem-solving skills.  

The Department of Education – Military Affairs Office

Today, approximately 71% of youth (ages 17-24) are not qualified for military service. Obesity, not lack of education, was identified as the leading reason for those 71 percent being ineligible. In addition, youth’s propensity towards military service has declined significantly because of decreases in the veteran population and fewer family connections to those serving in the military.  The Department of Education’s Military Affairs Office recommends:

  • More physical and/or health-related education in the curriculum
  • Increase recess time and/or physical activity at school
  • Promote healthy eating
  • Promote multiple career pathways to America’s youth
  • Consider incentives and education programs to enhance military service at the state and local level

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently cited an Education Trust study from 2010, entitled “Shut Out of the Military: Today’s High School education Doesn’t Mean You’re Ready for Today’s Army.” This study represents the first-ever public analysis of national and state data from the U.S. Armed Forces Entrance Exam and shows that today’s high school education does not necessarily prepare graduates for today’s armed forces.  The report specifically mentions that:

  • Among young high school graduates, about one in five do not meet the minimum standard necessary to enlist in the U.S. Army.
  • On average, young people of color are far more likely not to pass the qualifying exam than other applicants.
  • Candidates of color who pass often have lower scores than their white peers, excluding them from high-level training and advancement opportunities.
  • Wide disparities in eligibility by race/ethnicity between and within states provide a report card on how state educational systems do—and don’t—prepare different groups of students.
  • Because the test assesses many occupational skills, low scores mean these applicants are also unlikely to succeed in the civilian workforce.

States can use these suggested actions to incorporate into their K-12 system, and improve their students’ ability to be successful military recruits upon graduation. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), provides flexibility to states to do what is best for children. Through ESSA, states can incorporate appropriate incentives and activities that teach students about the benefits of military and public service.