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THE ASVAB CAMPAIGN
The National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy has been working to convince school officials to select ASVAB Release Option 8 since 2005.
In that year activists began applying pressure on school officials in about two dozen states urging them to select Option 8 for students taking the ASVAB, thereby prohibiting the automatic release of test data to military recruiting services. The issue has steadily gained traction and is gradually finding a place on the agendas of civil rights and peace and justice organizations.
After 2005, loosely coordinated campaigns launched successful programs that resulted in several of the nation's largest school districts, including those in Montgomery County, Maryland, New York City, San Diego, and Los Angeles to select Option 8 for all students taking the ASVAB.
In 2006 the L.A. Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild wrote a compelling legal brief that identified ASVAB testing in the schools as a civil rights issue. Campaign successes attracted national media attention. In 2008 coalition partners worked with investigative journalist Dan Hardy on a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Inquirer published a database acquired from the DoD through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on ASVAB testing in 12,000 high schools across the country.
Individuals affiliated with ASVAB campaigns in Hawaii, California, and Maryland set their sights on statewide initiatives to mandate the universal selection of Option 8. After a rash of news articles that exposed deceptive aspects of this recruiting program in Hawaii's high schools, Hawaii's Department of Education implemented the nation's first statewide policy. Next, a brilliant campaign by California activists caused the California legislature to pass an Option 8 measure in 2008, but it was immediately vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Governor Schwarzenegger was not persuaded by arguments that California parents, rather than military representatives from the US Military Entrance Processing Command, should make decisions regarding the release of student information.
In 2010, a campaign directed by the Maryland Coalition to Protect Student Privacy resulted in Maryland becoming the first state to enact a law that prohibits the automatic release of student information to military recruiters gathered as a result of the administration of the ASVAB. See the Maryland law here: Ch 105 Education 7-111(C)
The NAACP-MD, PTA-MD, ACLU-MD, Progressive Maryland, Peace Action and several privacy groups lobbied for the passage of the bill. The law requires that each public school that administers the ASVAB shall choose Option 8 as the reporting option for military recruiter contact to prohibit the general release of any student information to military recruiters. Stories in several national media outlets, including USA Today, NPR Radio and The Washington Post brought additional national attention. Interestingly, the Washington Post repeated a frequent Pentagon claim that children can "opt-out" from having their test results sent to recruiters. A robust letter-writing campaign forced the paper to print a correction.
Since the Maryland victory, the New Hampshire Commissioner of Education and NH State Board of Education have gone on record calling for the selection of Option 8 throughout that state. Active coalitions in several states, including many of the states in the Northeast, Oregon, Washington, and a dozen others are optimistic about their prospects. 2,408 schools across the country have moved to select Option 8, up from 2,177 in 2011-2012
This campaign is not an anti-military operation. We acknowledge federal laws that guarantee military recruiters' access to public high school children. We simply call for the universal selection of ASVAB Option 8 for all students who participate in the high school ASVAB testing program. This may be achieved by administrative policy changes at the school, school district, or state level, or through the passage of laws similar to the one passed in Maryland. Although Maryland's law sets the gold standard, the focus of this campaign is to educate the educators.
The ASVAB Campaign has several components:
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests
In late December, 2013 the Department of Defense released two databases on the military's controversial Student Testing Program. One covered the 2011-2012 school year and the other reflected statistics for the 2012-2013 year.
The 2011-2012 database was released after a year and a half, thanks to the involvement of Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD).
The coalition has received four prior years of data through the FOIA process covering the 2006-2007, 2008-2009, 2009-2010, and 2010-2011 school years. It's never been easy.
An examination of the complex and contradictory dataset raises serious issues regarding student privacy in America's schools.
Because our campaign is active in nearly every state we are keenly interested in tracking our progress.
The information we've received is national in scope and includes the name of every high school in the country where the ASVAB is administered, the numbers of students who take the test, along with their release options. The data also includes information regarding whether testing sessions are mandatory. Military regulations prohibit recruiters from suggesting the test be made mandatory while guidance counselors have reported that recruiters routinely push mandatory testing. The data shows that 931 schools require children to take the test and most do so without parental consent.
This data is crucial in allowing us to track our progress and to assure that proper procedures are followed regarding the administration of the test. When presented with the data, school officials often report different numbers for mandatory testing, the overall numbers of students tested, and their release options. After examining erroneous data state legislators and school administrators are more likely to call for the universal selection of Option 8. It's important for this data to be in the public domain.
Aside from a flurry of national attention after we were instrumental in passing legislation in Maryland in 2010 and more national exposure in 2013 after the UN addressed our concerns regarding mandatory testing, we pretty much operate in the wilderness. No one picked up the story when New Hampshire's Superintendent and State Board of Education went on record supporting the selection of ASVAB Release Option 8. And no one paid attention after we sent out a release when the Rutgers School of Law published their "Best Practices" guide. We need another state to pass a law like Maryland's to reasonably expect national coverage.
The data we're received from the US Military Entrance Processing Command identifies more than a thousand schools across the country that require ASVAB testing. Meanwhile, hundreds of schools require testing in states across the country that are not identified as being mandatory in the official ASVAB data we've received from USMEPCOM. For instance, the information released by the DoD for the 2012-2013 school year shows there is no mandatory testing in Ohio, however, it is possible, using a simple Google search tool, in this case: ("k12.oh.us" asvab "all juniors") to uncover dozens of schools that require students to take the ASVAB that are not reported by the Pentagon. The evidence must be collected and disseminated to activists, policy makers, and local and national media outlets.
Exploiting the Clash Between State & Federal Laws
Aside from managing to evade the constraints of FERPA and ESEA, the military may also be violating many state laws on student privacy when it administers the ASVAB in public high schools. This was the case in Maryland when that state enacted legislation to protect the privacy of its schoolchildren who took the test. Students participating in the program are required to furnish their social security numbers for the tests to be processed, even though most state laws specifically forbid such information being released without parental consent. In addition, the ASVAB Answer Sheet requires under-aged students to sign a Privacy Statement, a practice that may also be prohibited by many state laws.
One notable exception is the state of Kentucky. Kentucky has The worst law in the nation regarding the protection of student privacy. According to the statute, "All student academic records shall be made available upon request to any agency of the federal or state government for the purpose of determining a student's eligibility for military service."
Legal Requirements for Administering the ASVAB
The Constitutional Rights and International Human Rights Clinics at Rutgers School of Law Newark, has published "Best Practices for ASVAB-CEP Administration: A Guide for Professional School Counselors." The document outlines steps that should be taken by schools to ensure that legal requirements and professional standards are respected when the ASVAB-CEP is administered. The report warns school officials that the administration the ASVAB-CEP without careful consideration might release students’ test results to military recruiters, in violation of students’ and parents’ privacy rights.
Outreach to Educational Professionals
It's important for us to establish a dialogue with local and state educational professionals. Typically, school administrators fail to select Option 8 because they don't realize the option exists. Thus, the thrust of this campaign is to inform educational policy makers of the simple steps they can take to protect student privacy. The following stakeholders must be approached in each state: State Superintendents of School, State Directors of Guidance Programs, Members of State Boards of Education, State representatives to the National Association of State Boards of Education, State representatives to the National School Boards Association, Local Superintendents of Schools, State Representatives to the American Association of School Administrators, State representative s to the National Education Association, State representatives to the American Federation of Teachers, and State Officers of the National PTA. It is a daunting task but as we slowly and methodically check off these groups we will see the selection of Option 8 continue to grow across the country.
Outreach to ACLU Offices
The ACLU is America's premier civil liberties organization. Their hearts are in the right place, but they're starved for funding and many of their state offices are shoestring operations, at best. Most offices are too busy to spend a few hours drafting a letter to their state's educational leadership. Even so, we have generated letters from nearly a third of the state ACLU offices.
Outreach to NEA, PTA's NAACP's
New Hampshire's school board was lobbied by the NEA New Hampshire, the state's NEA affiliate. This was the first time we've been able to enlist the help of folks from the nation's largest teacher's union. During the last few years the NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly has been unwilling to get behind a resolution calling for the universal selection of ASVAB Option 8. The conservative teacher's union is unwilling to back a resolution that aims to protect student privacy but runs counter to the wishes of USMEPCOM commanders.
The PTA of Maryland supported the law change in that state arguing that parents, rather than the military entrance processing command, should ultimately make decisions regarding the release of student information in the schools. Meanwhile, the NEA refused to back the Maryland measure.
The response from NAACP offices across the country has been disappointing despite our efforts and compelling statistics in several states that point to a strong correlation between numbers tested in specific schools and the racial makeup of schools. Often, the ASVAB is simply not administered in high schools with tiny minority populations. There's a ton of work to do here.
Our work with the United Nations over several years led the Committee on the Rights of the Child to call on the Obama administration in 2013 to ensure that ASVAB testing be voluntary. Members of the committee in Geneva found it incredulous that a thousand American schools force underage children to take this military test without parental consent.
To provide some background, the United States ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC) in 2002. Article 3.3 of OPAC states that parties that permit voluntary recruitment into their national armed forces under the age of 18 years shall maintain safeguards to ensure, as a minimum, that:
(a) Such recruitment is genuinely voluntary; (b) Such recruitment is carried out with the informed consent of the person's parents or legal guardians;(c) Such persons are fully informed of the duties involved in such military service.
Forced military testing in American public schools for recruitment purposes without parental consent violates the treaty.
In December of 2012 the Obama Administration responded to the U.N. Committee by denying the mandatory nature of the testing regime. "Participation in the ASVAB CEP is entirely voluntary. DOD does not require schools to participate, nor does it require schools to test all students within a participating school. There is no obligation for students who participate in the ASVAB CEP to talk with a recruiter, even if their scores are released to recruiters."
The American response to the UN Committee is not based on reality. The release of student data by the Pentagon through successive FOIA requests identifies more than a thousand schools where testing is required. Additionally, U.S. Army Recruiting Command Regulation 601-107 ranks each high school based on how receptive it is to military recruiters. Schools are awarded extra points when they make the ASVAB mandatory. (See page 25, Item 8 in USAREC pub. 601-107)
Meanwhile, numerous mainstream news articles provide proof of mandatory testing. The US response demonstrates a blatant disregard for truth and disdain for the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC)
Members of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and individuals with several international NGO's working on the issue of child soldiers speak of a regular pattern of American contempt for these and other multilateral accords.
Item 20(c) below is the “finding” and 20(d) is the “concern” of the Committee of the Rights of the Child. The Committee stopped short of declaring a more sweeping “concern” regarding the overall deception of the ASVAB-CEP in 12,000 schools across the US.
20 (c) Parents and children are often unaware of the voluntary nature of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test organized in schools or its links to the military and that in some instances students were reportedly informed that the test was mandatory.
21 (c) Ensure that schools, parents and pupils are made aware of the voluntary nature of the ASVAB before consenting to the participation into it.
See the Committee on the Rights of the Child - Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict: List of issues concerning additional and updated information related to the consideration of the second report of the United States of America, 3 December, 2012. CRC/C/OPAC/USA/Q/2/Add.1)
The campaign will continue to collect and catalog press reports of abuses and will endeavor to gather the names of students and parents who feel they've been victimized. These accounts provide a human face to the campaign and are indespensible in dealing with the press.
The ASVAB is still Required in 931 Schools
At Cedar Ridge High School in Hillsborough, North Carolina, three public high school students refused to take the required ASVAB test on privacy grounds and were sent to the detention room for the day. Principal Gary Thornburg explained "I don't have a lot of patience with people who are refusing to take the assessment--or refusing anything that their entire grade level is participating in."
Juniors at Pepperell High School in Georgia were told by their principal that the ASVAB was mandated by federal law. Posting on social media and distributing fliers on the day of the test, a small group of student activists convinced two-thirds of the junior class to refuse to take the test.
"All Juniors will report to the cafeteria on Monday at 8:10 a.m. to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Whether you are planning on college, a technical school, or you are just not sure yet, the ASVAB Career Exploration Program can provide you with important information about your skills, abilities and interests and help put you on the right course for a satisfying career."
This announcement or one very similar to it greets students in more than a thousand high schools across the country. This marketing campaign rarely mentions the military and never states that the primary purpose of the testing regime is to gather leads for military recruiters.
Imagine you're Major Adam Grim, United States Army, Commander, United States Military Entrance Processing Command, Little Rock Arkansas and you had the complete cooperation of the Arkansas Department of Education to recruit high school students into the U.S. military. The first step you might take is to require juniors in public high schools to take the ASVAB, the military's entrance exam. ASVAB results are good for enlistment purposes for up to two years. The ASVAB offers a treasure trove of information on students and allows the state's top recruiter to pre-screen the entire crop of incoming potential recruits.
In Arkansas 140 high schools forced 7,133 children to take this military test without parental consent last year. "We've always done it that way and no one has ever complained," explained one school counselor.
The Army recruiter's handbook actually calls for military recruiters to "take ownership of schools" and this is one way they're doing it. The U.S. Army Recruiting Command ranks each high school based on how receptive it is to military recruiters. Schools are awarded extra points when they make the ASVAB mandatory. See page 25, Item 8 in USAREC pub. 601-107
Meanwhile, contradictory military recruiting regulations specifically prohibit the test from being mandatory mandatory. See Page 3-1 of USMEPCOM Reg. 601-4 entitled Voluntary aspect of the student ASVAB "School and student participation in the Student Testing Program is voluntary. DOD personnel are prohibited from suggesting to school officials or any other influential individual or group that the test be made mandatory. Schools will be encouraged to recommend most students participate in the ASVAB CEP. If the school requires all students of a particular group or grade to test, the MEPS will support it."
It's a pretty thin line to us and it appears the military has crossed it a thousand times.
Examine your state's database
Click Here to access your state’s ASVAB data.
Examine the "Mandatory" row. Hundreds of schools require testing in states across the country and these are not identified as being mandatory in the official ASVAB data.
Perhaps you can help us in your state. For instance, the information released by the DoD for the 2012-2013 school year shows there is no mandatory testing in Ohio, however, it is possible, using a simple Google search tool, in this case -- ("k12.oh.us" asvab "all juniors") to uncover dozens of schools that require students to take the ASVAB that are not reported by the Pentagon. Simply substitute the abbreviation for your state. This contradictory evidence must be collected and disseminated to activists, policy makers, and local and national media outlets.