In Phil Carter's and Brad Flora's "complete guide to the Army's recruiting incentives," published in Slate last November, they state, "Among 2004 recruits, 92.5 percent had a high-school diploma, while the same could be said for 87 percent in 2005, 81.2 percent in 2006, and 79.1 percent in 2007."
However, Fred Kaplan yesterday said, "The latest statistics—compiled by the Defense Department. and obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Boston-based National Priorities Project—are grim. They show that the percentage of new Army recruits with high-school diplomas has plunged from 94 percent in 2003 to 83.5 percent in 2005 to 70.7 percent in 2007. (The Pentagon's longstanding goal is 90 percent.)"
Why the inconsistency for the 2005 figures? The discrepancy for 2007 might be explained by really heavy recruitment of dropouts during November and December 2007, but there's no obvious reason why two Slate articles -- the second even linking the first -- should have different statistics for 2005.
What actually would interest me, though, is how many high school dropouts do well on the military's aptitude test. I remember taking that in high school, and although I don't remember my score and I still got recruitment calls and mail from the Navy, I'm pretty sure I did poorly on the practical, non-academic aspects: Electronics Information, Auto Information, Shop Information, Mechanical Comprehension and Assembling Objects. I'm all for having people in the military who can read, write, do math and know that the earth is round, but for many crucial tasks, the half of the test that I probably flunked is a better predictor of ability. Some people are lousy in the classroom and end up dropping out of high school because they find it boring and frustrating to sit through mediocre lectures on The Taming of the Shrew. That doesn't mean they're "dumb," at least not in the way that counts for getting certain jobs done.
But if the military is recruiting people with neither academic nor practical abilities -- people who score poorly on both parts of the ASVAB -- then we really are in trouble.