OP-ED | Student Privacy and the Military in Connecticut
I’m dumfounded witnessing the influence apparently wielded by the military in Connecticut’s General Assembly. Its influence runs counter to the sensibilities and civil liberties of the citizens of the Constitution State. Apparently the Department of Defense has such clout few have the courage or political will to oppose it. This is not what democracy looks like.
On Thursday SB 423, “An Act Concerning Student Privacy and the Administration of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery” was allegedly referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for legislative death. Apparently, committee members have “serious reservations” regarding the bill. How odd it is that legislation designed to protect the privacy of Connecticut High School children should be re-routed through the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs!
A child can go to school in Connecticut, be tested by the Pentagon, and have test results, detailed demographic information and social security numbers released to recruiters without parental consent or knowledge.
Information gathered as a result of the administration of the ASVAB is the only information leaving Connecticut’s schools about children without providing for parental consent. SB 423 would change that. The members of the Education Committee overwhelmingly thought it was a good bill, but some members of the veteran’s Committee have serious reservations. How does this work, exactly?
The ASVAB is the military’s entrance exam that is given to fresh recruits to determine their aptitude for various military occupations. The test is also used as a recruiting tool in 106 high schools in Connecticut and nearly 12,000 across the country. The three-hour test is used by the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command to gain sensitive, personal information on 3,750 Connecticut kids and 660,000 high school students across the country every year, the vast majority of whom are under the age of 18.
According to military regulations the primary purpose of the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Batter) is to provide military recruiters “with a source of leads of high school juniors and seniors.” Nothing in the records of the Connecticut State Department of Education or any of the public schools in Connecticut officially recognizes this fact. Instead, the DoD markets the test as a “Career Exploration Program.”
The Pentagon uses the exam to gather a treasure-trove of information to use in an astoundingly sophisticated recruiting program. The ASVAB allows the military access to a child’s cognitive abilities, something the recruiting command can’t purchase or find online. A child’s social and intellectual dimensions are combined to create a precise, virtual portrait. After the test is administered military representatives typically meet with youth at school to discuss their scores and suggest career paths. Later, recruiters make calls to the students, using the sophisticated individualized profiles.
Nothing in this legislation will preclude the military from continuing to administer the test in the high schools for enlistment purposes. This act will simply require a student who wishes to use his or her scores for enlistment to visit a recruiter who will complete a form and have the student (or parent) sign it. That’s all it does. The bill prohibits the wholesale release of student records.
When Maryland passed a bill like SB 423 that state’s top recruiter argued that the military command — rather than parents — should make decisions regarding the release of student information. The same has happened in Connecticut. In written testimony Lt. Colonel Michael D. Coleman, Commander, U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion in Albany also took the position that his command — rather than mom and dad — should decide on the release of student information.
Lt. Col. Coleman writes that passage of the bill will cause children to lose the opportunity to benefit from the ASVAB Career Exploration Program. It will not.
We don’t have a problem with the use of the test in the state’s schools and we agree with Lt. Col. Coleman that students benefit from test results and participation in the Career Exploration Program. Students, however, still benefit from the program when parental consent is enforced. It should be noted that both Hawaii and Maryland, two states that mandate parental consent, have experienced a growth in the numbers of students participating in the ASVAB since mandating parental consent.
If the measure fails here it doesn’t stand much of a chance anywhere else. And that does not speak well for the health of our democracy.
Why does society give the military a pass? We wouldn’t tolerate similar invasions of privacy if they occurred at the hands of, say, the Department of Transportation or the IRS. Shouldn’t we expect the DoD to function by the rules in a transparent and democratic society?
Pat Elder is the director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy.