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Education Chief Says Low Academic Achievement Affects National Security

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speaks to military officials at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station during a San Diego visit on Wednesday.
Ana Tintocalis
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speaks to military officials at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station during a San Diego visit on Wednesday.
Education Chief Says Low Academic Achievement Affects National Security
Education officials say poor academic performance may threaten U.S. national security. We'll examine a new push by the U.S. Department of Education and some military officials to revamp the No Child Left Behind Act. They're backing up their argument with some sobering statistics about the large percentage of young people who can't qualify for military service.

Getting into the U.S. military is not like qualifying for an Ivy League college. But the armed services certainly have their standards. A young person has to have a high school diploma or GED, pass a basic academic test, and satisfy weight and fitness requirements.

What is beginning to worry some U.S. education and military officials is the fact that more than half the 18 year olds in this country don't meet the basic qualifications for enlistment. And that number may continue to rise unless some changes are made.



Ana Tintocalis, KPBS education reporter

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh your listening to these days on K P B S getting that the U S military is not like qualifying for college but the arm services certainly have their standards a young person has to a high school diploma and satisfy physical requirements what is beginning worry [CHECK] is the fact that more than half 18 year olds in this country don't meet the basic qualifications for enlistment and that may continue to rise unless some changes are made. Joining me now Ana Tintocalis good morning Ana.

TINTOCALIS: Good morning. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Now to talk about a link between education and national security how does he make that argument?

TINTOCALIS: Well as you mentioned secretary D really pointed to this new report that was put forth by education trust in Washington D C and he mentioned one in four high school students who are set on joining the military can't get into the military because they don't have the academic qualifications to get in. They can't pass the entrance exam on top of that you factor in the dropout rate in this country and in California it's very dramatic not only have you having students that want get into the military that can't because they're not academically prepared you have a bunch of students that never get their high school diploma or G E D so they're not qualified. Also you have this huge it can going into the armed forces and when you have fewer young people that then is a national security issue because you're compromising the country's safety you don't have men and women filling those military roles so that's the point he wanted to make and he made this point at the Miramar air station Marine Corps air station here to really drive that point he home so he was surrounded by military officials he's so you know joined forces this group called mission readiness and it's [CHECK] military veterans who [CHECK] on education reform and trying to make sure that young Americans are prepared go into military service.


CAVANAUGH: I guess I was behind the times because I didn't even realize that someone actually needed a high school diploma in ordered to qualify for entrance into the U S armed services apparently if you have a G E D you're on a waiting list so you’re not qualified right off the bat.

TINTOCALIS: Right they made that change awhile go but yeah there’s a lot of misconceptions about entering into the military. One of the things that's being pointed out and other military officials is that there is this kind of sentiment out there that if you're not college ready if you don't have a career, technical type of back ground that you can enter into the military and it's no problem. Well that's not the case anymore. You need an high school diploma for sure to be qualified and a GED to be on the waiting list so this is potentially shutting out thousands for military service and they're also not filling out physical aptitude is a big part too of course.

CAVANAUGH: I want to talk a little bit more of physical in a moment but of the 18, 19 year olds that do qualify because they have graduated from high school there's this significant percentage of these kids can't pass the academic testing what this academic testing that they have to pass in order to join the military tell us about that.

TINTOCALIS: Right. It's a basic aptitude test it's called the arms services aptitude [CHECK] and it's a test that determines if applicants qualify for enlistments and what occupations and what levels of those a occupations they're prepared for. The nine part timed tests which take about three hours to complete. Word knowledge, paragraph composition, reasoning and I actually printed out a sampling some of the questions include an eclipse of the sun there's the sun, the sun the moon and the earth on the sun that kind of thing.

CAVANAUGH: Multiple choice.

TINTOCALIS: Right. How many 36 passenger passes will it take to carry 144 people? If X plus six [CHECK] you know so if you study you should be doing a pretty good job on that. So the bottom line is not only are high schools not preparing teenagers for college by a vast number of series careers they're also not preparing them for the military and when you take a look and draw down at the data you're beginning to also there's this achievement gap in the military where you have students who enter into the military you have African American and Latino students at very low levels compared to their white counterparts just in the military service which is interesting.

CAVANAUGH: So the achievement gap again and when we're talking about education that's what people want to address here but it's a very [CHECK] problem.

TINTOCALIS: It's been very well [CHECK] in our high schools and elementary schools because of statements and in the military service so this was a very interesting study that came out that really these military officials that joined Secretary Duncan were really trying to sound the bells. I wanted to play you a clip of done because he kind of used this data as a jumping off point to really begin a serious conversation about reforming the federal no child left behind act and this act was put in to law about 10 years ago and it was a way to really provide some accountability in schools and analyst say it has shed some light in terms really understanding where we're at academically we know how African Americans in their student performance. Latins in their student performance so it shed a light but many educators feel it's very punitive it's too restrictive it's very one size fits all. And it doesn't reward schools for performance the performance they are making it's a snap shot in terms of what a school's doing it doesn't take into account that they might be making slow but study progress but this is what done had to say about this new kind of push to revamp no child left behind. Fixing the law frankly doesn't cost a dime there's no there [CHECK] that we had so want to continue to invest in education investing is very different vision of which we need to go and when I look at what's going on around the globe in now going and it's amazing what other countries are doing to dramatically improve the change rate of improvement. We're simply being out educated today by many other countries that to me is simply unacceptable so this was kind of this call of not [CHECK] in education and doing what it takes to reform the law now this federal law has been in the works for about 10 years now in attempt to overhaul it in [CHECK] it's just too huge they had the time to spend on it they make some traction and then it falls by the waste side so done is really pushing for this and he has an al here in San Diego San Diego congressman Duncan Hunter is going to be taking up this issue he's part of sub committee in congress that shares early education issues and he was also the at the news conference yesterday. He's committed to trying to get change done this happen by August this August which is not going to happen I don't think. Are you talking about U S education [CHECK] Arne Duncan.

TINTOCALIS: Yes the two Duncans here together someone called it. Secretary Duncan wants changes done by August that's probably not going to happen by Congressman Duncan says he's on it and he wants to see results too this is what he had to say. We might do smaller packages as opposed to one large bill but what we're going to be do we're going to let this reform work it's way through committee [CHECK] watch us fix things wore not going to rush anything to the house that hasn't been read, looked at properly to the that is San Diego congressman Duncan Hunter.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us before we move on, Ana how do they want to change no child left behind what are they want to focus focus on oh to speak.

TINTOCALIS: Well, the one, I know, big thing that many educators in the country and secretary Duncan said himself they want to move it away from being a punitive law right now when you take the state standardized test that figures into this no child left behind it's a snap shot in time so you have school A they take the test the federal law looks at it you're still not meeting a number of bench marks you're still deemed as a failing school even if the school has been making progress. It doesn't take into account progress is the way the measure so it's not instead [CHECK] It's more rewarding of the small steps.

CAVANAUGH: Also more of an emphasis on early education.

TINTOCALIS: That was a big call yesterday at this news conference that the military officials and Secretary Duncan is making is that we need to really focus on early [CHECK] and you'll hear more of that this upcoming year of kindergarten to college and really make it preschool to college and really focus on high quality preschool programs especially for many families that are kind of that are shut out from good preschool programs otherwise they're not wealthy enough to [CHECK] into their kid into private or they don't meet economic threshold to get free preschool they're in this limbo area and even the quality of preschools it's self they're like babysitting. Many of them are like babysitting centers so Secretary Duncan wants this to be a part of the no child left behind and he's also going to start dangling out competitive grants in front of groups and school districts in preschool so similar to what we're seeing with race to the top it just really focuses on early education.

CAVANAUGH: Now congressmen and US [CHECK]were on the same page during this first ceremony but as congressman Duncan Hunter went on the tone perhaps got a little more partisan as he move on through the day.

TINTOCALIS: Yeah absolutely it was an interesting and even Secretary Duncan himself said it's kind of unusual alliance you have these Republican military veterans who are trying to align themselves the traditional December educators right and so while I think everyone is on the same page about wanting to really change no child left behind of course there's going to be dramatic difference it's just way too complex and he was also Duncan Hunter and Secretary Duncan visited a school in Poway to start jump start the talks about [CHECK] do this and what super intendant principals and teachers think about there's definitely a level of frustration in California they want to talk more about how are we going to get more federal funding into the state and the states money problems done also Secretary Duncan is really keep on trying to get more aggressive reforms when it comes to teacher performance and evaluations and one principal at this meeting a part from talk about the military issue at this school in Poway he's a specifically at bell middle school his name is Michael Dodson and he says the problem is the most energetic teachers that come into this world of educators the first ones that fired we've seen this with the hey off notices put forth he says if it was up to him he would be pointing out the older [CHECK] this is what he had to say [AUDIO] because of the law those are the teachers that get the law off noticing I have teachers that know that they're safe and untouchable with and they get in their class rooms shut the doors they do whatever they are doing because they are in the union to protect them.

TINTOCALIS: And that's correct signal of what we will hear about test schools to teacher performance.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much for coming in and speaking with us today Ana.

TINTOCALIS: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Ana Tintocalis with K P B S if you would like to comment please go online K P B S .org coming up a preview of the Aztecs big sweet 16 game as these days continue on K P B S.