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'No Child's' call to arms

October 24, 2008

Fixing the No Child Left Behind Act has so far proved tricky, and Congress abandoned the effort after sharp divisions over how much revision was warranted. But one little-noticed part of the school accountability law is easily corrected: Congress needs merely to delete the provision that gives the military access to personal information about high school juniors and seniors, who are then surprised at home by telemarketing recruiters. Obviously, this provision has nothing to do with raising school standards or closing achievement gaps. If it did, it would require such access for college recruiters as well.

Parents can opt out of the provision by stating in writing that they do not want information about their children going to the armed services. Many school districts make this easy by sending home a standard checkoff form at the beginning of the school year that asks parents to grant or revoke permission for disseminating personal information to colleges, potential employers and media as well as the military. Students then hand them in to teachers along with all of their other back-to-school forms.

In some districts, though, such as Conejo Valley Unified in Ventura County, the process is more complicated. Because the district doesn't release student information to any other outside agency, it created a special form for the opt-out, which it mails to students' homes and which must be mailed or faxed back to the district. Low-income families and those who are not literate in English are least likely to return such forms.

It's legitimate for Congress to consider new ways for the military to recruit. The armed services are an attractive option to many high school students, who can get a leg up on vocational training, or paying for college, or starting a lifelong career for themselves while serving their country -- though parents also must retain a powerful say about who is allowed access to their underage children. The trouble here is the device: If Congress wants the military to have access to students' home phone numbers, it should openly legislate it, rather than surreptitiously slipping such a provision into an unrelated law.

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