Sunday, December 21, 2008

At a time when President George W. Bush will leave office with some of the lowest approval ratings in the history of the presidency, there is one group of citizens who should be grateful for the work he did on their behalf. Mr. Bush has been a strong supporter of a parent’s right to choose home education.

When he was governor of Texas and the right to home-school was being debated, Mr. Bush strongly defended the right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children via home-schooling.

When he came to Washington, he carried that same support for home-schooling and parental freedom with him. On Sept. 27, 2001, he directed a letter to a group of home-school state leaders gathered at the Home School Legal Defense Association National Leadership Conference.

Mr. Bush encouraged the leaders with these words: “Education is one of our nation’s top priorities. To help ensure a bright future for America, our young people must have the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in a dynamic and changing world. Home-schooling contributes significantly to this vital endeavor by giving parents the opportunity to take a more active and direct role in their children’s education.”

At the beginning of Mr. Bush’s first term, home-schoolers were facing significant obstacles at the federal level. One area of injustice for home-schoolers concerned their entry into the military.

The initial problem was that the various branches of the military refused to recognize home-school diplomas as equivalent to those issued by an accredited public or private school. Public school graduates were placed in Tier I of the military’s three-tier enlistment categories and consequently given priority for advancement in the various military branches. Most other enlistees - including graduates with GEDs and home-schoolers - were placed in Tier II, which made it much harder to make career progress in the military.

In 1998, HSLDA helped negotiate a six-year pilot program whereby home-schoolers would be placed in Tier I. Their attrition rates would be evaluated at the end of that time to determine whether they were indeed good candidates for military service.

Regrettably, at the end of the pilot test in 2004, home-schoolers were again placed in Tier II. HSLDA, however, showed where the pilot test could have been flawed and suggested to the Department of Defense that it change its policy based upon data that showed that home-school graduate enlistees who scored above the 50th percentile on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) had attrition rates comparable to those of traditional high school graduates.

With the assistance of the president, the undersecretary of defense pronounced a policy effective June 1, 2007, that again placed home-school graduates in Tier I for a four-year period ending Sept. 30, 2011.

Tier I is especially important to enlistees because only Tier I enlistees are eligible for additional benefits, such as special education, specialized training and monetary incentives up to $70,000.

Each branch of the service has slightly different criteria for determining whether an enlistee is truly a home-school graduate, but the three primary components are: a high school diploma, an official transcript and proof of compliance with the enlistee’s state home-school law.

On behalf of the many home-school graduates, past, present and future, who desire to serve our country in the military, we thank Mr. Bush for his assistance through the Department of Defense to recognize the value of home-schoolers in the military, and the unique nature of the education they receive. We trust that future commanders-in-chief will be supportive of home-schoolers who want to serve their country in one of the armed services.

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

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