By Col. Chuck Bowes
Best Defense guest respondent
I challenge your premise that low-cost high school graduate conscription is a better way of staffing our military services.
Today's high school graduates suffer from systemically deficient abilities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) that poses considerable challenges to our increasingly technological military force. Research findings reported by the United States Mission to the Organization for Economic and Co-operation Development (OECD) reveals that U.S. middle school and high school students are habitually under-performing their international peers in STEM achievement measures.
President Obama, Secretary of Education Duncan, and Bill Gates also express concern that too few young people are acquiring the knowledge they need to use technology in creative and innovative ways. As U.S. student STEM achievement continues to race to the bottom of all industrialized competitors, adding non-volunteer recruits worsens the problem.
Today's graduates may quickly master the user-interface on commercial technologies, but if one of those competitors becomes a future adversary then our military recruits must be competent in the underlying STEM areas in order to adapt specialized military technologies to gain a competitive edge in cross-dimensional domains. A competitive edge is increasingly dependent on America's innovative edge. Absent another "Sputnik moment" that generates self-inspired reform for STEM achievement, the U.S. requires new concepts, new organizations, and new long-term strategies to develop agile young minds in order to retain our dominant military position.
For the U.S. to maintain
its competitive edge it must carefully develop children with high IQs to
achieve high levels of creative productivity. Intellectually gifted (IQs above
130) people have an above average innate ability to learn significantly faster
than their cohorts. The National Science Board also recognizes that gifted
students will form the next generation of STEM innovators.
Instead of reinstating a draft, I propose that our Defense Department train all of its officer candidates in ROTC programs and transform its military academies to become prep-schools that offer 3,000 intellectually gifted old youth a no-cost in-residence opportunity to specialize in STEM subjects during their early education. Further, we could provide many more free non-resident academies at public universities across the U.S. for just the cost of President Obama's $1.35 billion Race to the Top campaign.
An operating budget of
$1.35 billion equates to $11,000 per pupil yearly, which is 9 percent less than the
2010 national high school average of $12,018 per pupil, and 59 percent less than the
District of Columbia school system spends per pupil. These opportunities
should be specifically reserved for the students with the highest cognitive
potential, just as varsity teams are reserved for athletes with the highest
This proposal would provide the opportunity for the estimated 120,000 highly gifted students to participate in a highly challenging ability-based curriculum that accelerates their learning commensurate with their higher intellectual aptitude. Similar to the National Security Education Program and the CIA's Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholarship, graduates merit a "priority placement" hiring status and are excepted from competitive service under law as an incentive for long-term employment in the armed services and military industrial complex.
Since this proposal is an additive intervention, not a voucher system, it relieves pressures to provide special accommodations for gifted students without stripping money from public schools. Accordingly, the more gifted students in attendance, the more that public schools can fully focus their resources on educating the ‘vulnerable' students whom they commendably target now. Most colleges eagerly accept gifted students and leveraging their existing underutilized infrastructure benefits the college and offers a shrewd dividend to taxpayers created by decades of investments from many federal sources.
Colonel Chuck Bowes is an Air National Guard aviator and graduate of the U.S. Army War College. He is currently serving on active duty at Headquarters 18th Air Force, Scott AFB.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.