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Appearing on the radar 

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I've covered the U.S. Air Force Academy off and on since 2003, but I'd never been to its Preparatory School until last month. It's tucked into an area a few miles south of the main campus.

The prep school shares buildings with base operations, such as the mess hall and community center. There are no flashy replicas of aircraft here, or spired icons like the Cadet Chapel.

But the low-key location and façade shouldn't fool you: This school is one of the most controversial parts of the academy. Most students at the prep school don't meet minimum academic requirements to snare a direct appointment to the academy, so they're admitted for a year of remedial tutoring. Nearly half are recruited athletes.

Back in April 2012, we decided to take a closer look at the prep school, and submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for data that would shed light on how prep students measure up, or don't. It took the academy 18 months to completely fulfill our request.

The information we received doesn't paint a pretty picture. Not only do prep school students score far below direct appointees on standardized tests — while other fully qualified students of varying backgrounds are denied entry — they also have trouble with the academy's honor code. And those preppies who eventually enter the academy graduate at a lower rate than direct appointees. All of which is spelled out in our cover story that begins here.

  • This school is one of the most controversial parts of the academy.

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