- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2005

Home-schoolers finally have broken through in the military after a long effort. In a 2005 memorandum from the Department of Defense, home-schoolers were “afforded priority enlistment such that no practical limit shall apply.” It was not always this way.

Ever since home-schooling’s re-emergence in the late 1970s, home-school graduates have had a difficult time navigating the bureaucracy of the U.S. military.

The military has three tiers whereby recruits are admitted. New recruits with nontraditional high school diplomas are placed in Tier II, which was designed for people who are thought to possess fewer skills and abilities. Starting a military career in Tier II rather than Tier I disqualifies recruits from making significant upward progression. Because of this policy, home-school graduates effectively were excluded from fully serving their country.

This situation underwent a temporary change in October 1998, when Congress started a five-year pilot program to give home-schoolers fair access to the armed services. The program was scheduled to expire in September 2003 but was extended for one year. Unfortunately, the military allowed the pilot program to expire in October 2004. Home-school families turned to Home School Legal Defense Association for assistance.

HSLDA has been at the forefront of the battle to gain access for home-schoolers to the military, and HSLDA senior counsel Chris Klicka has been negotiating with the military for six years. There is plenty of evidence to support home-school applications.

On standardized tests, home-schoolers score, on average, 20 to 30 percentile points above the average public school student. In addition, a 2004 study from the National Home Education Research Institute found that home-schoolers are motivated to serve others and are more involved in their communities than public school students.

It is also no secret that many home-schoolers come from homes with religious backgrounds. A religious background usually means children have been taught to make contributions to society. Therefore, serving in the armed forces is consistent with the teaching received in most home-schools.

Home-school graduates also come from families that have focused on an essential attribute for a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine: good character. While we face the dangers of terrorism, the military should be using every means available to attract high-quality personnel.

During the pilot program and subsequent one-year extension, the military collected data on home-school recruits. HSLDA reviewed the data and concluded that home-schoolers were succeeding.

For example, home-schoolers enlisting in the Army have consistently scored as high as traditional public school graduates on the Armed Forces Qualification Test. For the first 12 months, their attrition rate was as low as public school graduates’. No legal waivers were issued to home-schoolers for drug or alcohol offenses committed before enlistment. Also, just 1.8 percent of all home-school Army recruits who left the Army received less-than-honorable discharges.

After several communications between HSLDA and officials at the Department of Defense, the aforementioned memorandum was issued, and the armed services opened the door to home-school graduates.

In addition, the Army is beginning a new effort to recruit home-schoolers, and the Tier II categorization will no longer be an obstacle for qualifying home-school graduates. Home-schoolers now should have all the same benefits and positions available to traditional high school graduates. The playing field finally is level.

HSLDA is thankful that one of our most important institutions has come full circle and recognized that home-schoolers can make significant contributions to the defense of America.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at 540/338-5600, or send e-mail to media@hslda.org.

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