Military recruiting is down, and many young would-be soldiers are being turned away because they can’t pass the academic aptitude test. 

The U.S. Army missed its recruiting goal by 15,000 soldiers this year, and there is plenty of blame to go around: The overall jobs market, wokeness in the military, and an epidemic of poor physical fitness have all been cited as possible reasons the Army missed its recruiting target by 25%. But there is another factor in play that is depressing enlistments among those who want to serve: inability to pass the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT).

The AFQT score measures a test-taker’s abilities in four math and verbal categories: word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, arithmetic reasoning, and mathematics knowledge. If our K-12 schools were competent, everyone with a high school diploma would have mastery of these core subjects. But that’s not happening, and our military is suffering for it. 

In 2019, Robert King, the Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education at the Department of Education, sounded the alarm about what the military’s future could look like if the country does not get its educational act together. He wrote, “Qualified projections indicate that over 30% of high school graduates from 23 states cannot qualify to serve in our Armed Forces due to their inability to earn a score over 29 on the 100 point Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT). In eight states, the projection exceeds 35%.”

The Army saw this coming. In August, it opened the Future Soldier Preparatory Course, a 90-day experience designed to bring people up to its physical fitness and academic readiness standards. Though this program was called, derisively, “Army Fat Camp,” it does more for participants than weight loss: It provides, in 90 days, the education that 13 years of schooling failed to deliver. 

The failure of American education is dragging down our military, and it has been for some time. From 2004 to 2009, 23% of recent high school graduates did not score high enough on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, of which the AFQT is a subset, to enlist. Last month, the Army dropped the requirement for new recruits to have either a high school diploma or a GED. It is doubly sad that not enough potential recruits have high school diplomas, and that those diplomas don’t mean much, anyway. 

This problem is going to get worse unless governors and superintendents step in. We have all seen the abysmal math and reading scores on the first post-pandemic Nation’s Report Card. Today’s 4th and 8th graders are less educated than their predecessors, and unless they are brought up to speed through concerted efforts at the state and local levels, they will lag behind for the rest of their educational careers. 

There are many thousands of young people who want to serve this country but cannot because this country has failed to serve them. We have a moral obligation to the rising generation, and to the future of this country, to turn the educational tides.