Feel the Draft? It's in Our Schools.

Not open for debate: 'No Child Left Behind' law orders parents, kids to endure military recruiting raps

Friday's Bush-Kerry TV show was a Democracy™ infomercial, rather than democracy.

Dan Rather, in his brief intro on CBS to the debate, touted it as a return to the "town hall" glory days of early America.

That's absurd, considering that admittedly "soft" voters—anyone with strong opinions, not even necessarily partisan ones—was barred from the audience by the Commission on Presidential Debates, an unholy alliance we've already talked about that trumps democracy.

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And it's silly to think of this as a "town hall," considering that Charlie Gibson—who elected him?—picked the softest of softballs to lob at the two candidates.

Sparks flew, nevertheless, and once again style triumphed over content when it came to analysis of what George W. Bush and John Kerry said.

The only hope is more education, right? But if you zero in on Friday night's discussion of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), you get a frightening and depressing civics lesson. Once again, important issues and events are being discussed by the candidates—and at the same time they're not being discussed at all.

I'll get to the astonishing military-recruitment part of the law in a minute. But first, throw the red flag and go to The Washington Post's Debate Referee. As usual, even the replay this campaign season is inadequate.

Here's what was said:

KERRY: No Child Left Behind Act, I voted for it. I support it. I support the goals. But the president has underfunded it by $28 billion.

And here's what the Post's Debate Referee said:

Federal education funding has risen 58 percent under President Bush, from about $40 billion to about $66 billion. However, the Bush administration has not requested as much money for No Child Left Behind as the original 2002 bill authorized.

Kerry was right. But do you think he was just nit-picking? Wrong.

Take a look at this analysis of educators' opinions in a report parsed by Public Agenda, which notes:

Despite strong support for standards and accountability, school leaders have, according to the report, "complicated, ambivalent feelings" about the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the most significant federal education legislation in decades.

Administrators are sharply divided over NCLB's purpose. Fewer than half of superintendents (40%) and principals (46%) think it is an effort to improve public schools. Another 22% and 29% say it is "motivated solely by politics," while 31% and 18% call it "a disguised effort to attack and destroy public education."

OK, maggots! Now hear this! The stringent rules of NCLB stupidly put even good districts at risk of losing funds, and more and more students are actually being left behind because they can't meet impossibly high standards when their districts' funds are being cut—in part, to pay for our imperial venture in Iraq.

Is the solution to spend more money on education?

No.

What's that? I can't hear you!

No, sir!

We'll let Sean Cavanagh of Education Week explain the law's basic training in "Military Recruiters Meet Pockets of Resistance":

Tucked into the massive "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001 was language requiring any "local education agency" receiving money under the law to provide [military] recruiters with access to students' names, addresses, and telephone numbers—the same information schools typically give to colleges. Schools and districts that refuse to comply risk losing federal aid

For a story with more of an edge, read law prof Anita Ramasastry's "No Child Left Unrecruited?" on FindLaw. Writing in December 2002, she said:

When public high school opened their doors this fall, military recruiters converged upon them, seeking student data. Schools and parents, taken aback by these unprecedented requests—for thirty years, this private information has been closely guarded—were surprised to discover that the requests were actually authorized by statute.

As she shrewdly noted, there's a huge privacy issue. Parents have the right to "opt out" of giving their kids' names to military recruiters, but you have to jump through hoops to do so. In other words, your privacy is automatically being violated—by default—but if you take the trouble, you can change that.

As for school districts, they risk their funding if they don't go along with this creepy provision of the NCLB. Read this article from Veterans for Peace, which notes:

Critics of the requirement, like Heidi Siegfried, interim executive director of Capital Region Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, do not think a federal education law should grant military recruiters access to the nation’s schoolchildren.

"Schools are there to educate our children," said Siegfried. "Education is one of the few social goods provided universally in our country, and the idea that it should be somehow linked to recruitment efforts is not right."


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