Attrition: Making the Best of Bad High Schools

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December1, 2006: The U.S. Army has been able to achieve an extraordinary feat, by sustaining it's strength in a long war (longer than World War II) using only volunteers. The main reason for this success was the willingness of troops already in uniform to stay there. Reenlistments have been higher than before the war on terror began in 2001. The invasion of Iraq resulted in even higher reenlistment rates.

Getting new recruits was another matter. The biggest problem is not anti-war sentiment. That is more smoke than fire. The biggest problem recruiters have is a robust economy and a low unemployment rate. This meant that the supply of bright (those who actually learned something) high school graduates was very tight. All these youngsters were being heavily recruited by companies. But research showed that a lot of high school drop-outs were actually bright kids who had simply been stuck in bad schools. So a program was set up (Two Tier Attrition Screen) to find the drop-outs worth letting in. It turned out that there were a lot of them. The screening process included having the candidates take, and pass, the GED (high school equivalency test). Last year, the army took in 5,900 screened drop outs, and they had a six month attrition rate of 6.2 percent. This meant that, for a variety of reasons, 6.2 percent of these recruits left the army within six months. Compare this to 10.3 percent for unscreened dropouts, and 5.6 percent for high school grads. Since the screened recruits had a GED, they were high school graduates, and the army ended up with only 19 percent of last years 88,000 recruits being high school drop outs. The army would prefer only ten percent high school drop outs, and when there's a recession, they can get it. But because so many high schools, especially in large cities, do such a terrible job of getting students through high school, the army has found that, by taking a close look at applicants who did not graduate, they can get good people that the high schools missed, or just screwed up on.


 


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