Now we know what "No Child Left Behind" really means.
The recent revelation that the Defense Department has begun working with a private marketing firm to create a database of high school students for the purposes of military recruitment is troubling. And it should concern all Americans who believe the administration's claim that it will not institute a draft.
This effort, in addition to other measures taken to spur enlistment, greatly undermines the idea that service in the armed forces today is purely voluntary.
A month after the U.S. Army suspended recruiting efforts for a day because of recruiting excesses, the Defense Department announced it has contracted with BeNow Inc. of Wakefield, Mass., to create a database of high school students between 16 and 18 years of age.
The database will contain personal information, including birthdates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade point averages, ethnicities and academic concentrations.
It's a program that privacy advocates feel goes too far. Many people have written the Pentagon, insisting that the collection of this information violates the Privacy Act.
What's more, with leakages of sensitive information by large information-gathering firms in the headlines seemingly every day, the collection of data such as Social Security numbers exposes U.S. teenagers to the risk of identity theft.
The Pentagon says the information will be protected by the use of passwords and other forms of encryption. But the Pentagon also says it reserves the right to share the data with law enforcement and tax authorities without notifying citizens.
This new initiative is only the latest -- and more extensive -- stage of a recruiting technique that began with a little known provision of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. School systems that refused to provide personal data to military recruiters have been at risk of losing federal funds ever since.
Recruiters have already been using this data to contact students at home, something that has had some parents on edge.
While the Pentagon has stated that any student or parent can "opt out" of the new data collection system and avoid being contacted for recruitment, they still must provide the information, which the Pentagon says will be kept in a separate "suppression file."
These measures have been taken on the heels of several abuses by military recruiters that recently came to light. Recruiters often face heavy pressures to meet yearly quotas. One teen in the Houston area recorded a conversation with a recruiter who threatened him with a warrant for arrest if he did not show up for a scheduled interview.
The Bush administration is between a rock and a hard place. It needs to maintain adequate levels of recruitment for a war that is becoming increasingly unpopular with the American public, and it has promised not to reinstate the draft.
The creation of the Pentagon database is a desperate measure taken by a military that no longer appeals to our young people, even those with little hope for academic or professional success.
With a failed Iraq war that continues to tally growing fatalities every day, the military and the Bush administration need to stop intruding into teenagers' lives and start focusing on pulling out of Iraq.
Ed Morales is a contributor to The Village Voice and Newsday in New York, and author of "Living in Spanglish" (St. Martin's Press, 2002). He can be reached at email@example.com.