PHILADELPHIA – Nancy Carroll didn't know schools were giving military recruiters her family's contact information until a recruiter called her 17-year-old granddaughter.
That didn't sit well with Carroll, who believes recruiters unfairly target minority students. So she joined activists across the country who are urging families to notify schools that they don't want their children's contact information given out.
"People of color who go into the military are put on the front line," said the 67-year-old Carroll, who is black.
A provision of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act (search) requires school districts to provide military recruiters with student phone numbers and addresses or risk losing millions in federal education funding. Parents or students 18 and over can "opt out" by submitting a written request to keep the information private.
But critics say schools do not always convey that message. In New Mexico, the American Civil Liberties Union (search) chapter sued the Albuquerque Public School District last month, charging it does not adequately inform parents of the opt-out provision.
Some critics oppose the federal law on privacy grounds, but others say it provides an unfair opportunity for the military to sway young minds — especially in economically depressed communities.
"They're not going to all the schools. They're going to the schools where they figure the kids will have less chance to go to college," said Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash. "It's an insidious kind of draft, quite frankly."
Carroll, who is raising three grandchildren in a working-class neighborhood of Philadelphia, agrees that the practice is unfair. "I wouldn't want them to join," she said of her grandchildren.
But Pentagon officials say the military deserves the same access to students that schools give to colleges and employers.
"In the past, it was all too common for a school district to make student directory information readily available to vendors, prospective employers and post-secondary institutions while intentionally excluding the services," Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
"Having access to 17- to 24-year-olds is very key to us," said Maj. Gen. Michael Rochelle, commander of the Army Recruiting Command (search), said at a news conference Friday at Fort Meade, Md. "We would hope that every high school administrator would provide those lists to us. They're terribly important for what we're trying to do."
Asked about aggressive recruiters targeting young people, he said:
"I would certainly hope that we are harassing no one. A recruiter today has to contact roughly 100 people before they can generally get one of them to sit down and listen to the Army story. ... I'm not asking my recruiters to be any less aggressive. I would not wish for them to be overbearing or annoying."
As military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan drag on, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are having trouble attracting recruits to their reserve forces, though only the Army is falling short in attracting people for its active-duty ranks.
Andrew Rinaldi, a senior at Edison High School in Edison, N.J., filed an opt-out letter but said he was contacted by a recruiter anyway. He said the recruiter mocked his pacifist views. "They're becoming more aggressive," he said.
None of the nation's approximately 22,600 high schools has failed to comply with the military provision of No Child Left Behind, and just one is "finalizing its compliance," Krenke said. None has lost funding.
Before No Child Left Behind was signed into law in 2002, about 12 percent of the nation's schools refused to turn over student records to military recruiters, Pentagon officials said. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who sponsored the recruitment provision, called the actions of those schools "offensive."
Now, activists are holding rallies and awareness campaigns to make sure students know they can opt out.
In Montclair, N.J., more than 80 percent of Montclair High School students have opted out since a student-led effort began last year.
"It's a place where military recruiters are not likely to have a ton of success, anyway, partly because ... a lot of parents can assist their kids with going to college," school district spokeswoman Laura Federico said.
In the urban blight of North Philadelphia, Joshua Gordy said the lure of college money led him to join the Army reserves at age 17. He said recruiters at his high school told him he could earn $35,000 for college.
That hasn't happened. Gordy, a 20-year-old reservist, said he apparently failed to send in the right paperwork in time. He hopes to enroll in community college this fall.
Rep. McDermott faults the military for enticing students with talk of patriotism, adventure and college funds, instead of giving them a realistic view of combat.
McDermott is among those in Congress trying to change the law so that students instead "opt-in" for recruitment.
"There's nothing dishonorable with serving in the military," said McDermott, a psychiatrist who served stateside during Vietnam. "But it ought to be done with your eyes open."