The Washington Times
July 30, 2007

Washington Times Op-ed—High-Scoring Enlisted Given Top Tier

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

Historically, the experience of homeschool graduates with the military has been one of recurring difficulty. This is largely due to the military being unwilling to see homeschoolers as individuals, preferring instead to use traditional high school diplomas from public or private schools as the only acceptable standard for enlistment.

Fortunately, there was a change in 1998 when the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), working with Rep. John Hostettler, a Republican from Indiana, was able to introduce a five-year pilot program that cut through the red tape and allowed homeschoolers to be admitted. This program was extended for one year, but was discontinued in the fall of 2004.

The reason the Pentagon gave for canceling the program was that a review of the program appeared to show that homeschoolers had higher attrition rates than traditional high school graduates.

HSLDA challenged the Pentagon’s findings, claiming that many of the people identified as homeschooled were not actually genuine homeschoolers. The results from enlistees who were really high school dropouts skewed the results against legitimate homeschoolers.

Our assessment of the original study showed that homeschoolers who scored 50 or above on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) had a comparable or higher likelihood of completing their initial four years of service than their peers who had graduated from traditional high schools.

HSLDA is convinced that homeschooled students have much to offer the country via service in the armed forces. Therefore, we persisted in our advocacy for homeschoolers.

Over the past few years, both the Army and Marine Corps have changed their policies and accommodated homeschoolers. These are welcome changes.

Now, however, there has been a breakthrough. HSLDA recently received news from Navy Capt. Christopher Arendt, deputy director of accession policy in the Pentagon, that effective immediately, most homeschoolers enlisting in the military will be considered Tier 1. The “tier” classification system is used to classify new enlistees based on attrition rates, the rate at which new service members complete their first tour of service, generally four years.

The new directive states that homeschoolers who score a 50 or above on the AFQT will automatically be placed in Tier 1. The change in policy is the result of a decision by the Department of Defense to conduct a new pilot program to review the attrition rates of homeschoolers. This pilot program is scheduled to last four years, during which time the Department of Defense will analyze the data and determine if a new long-term policy is warranted.

Although homeschoolers have been placed in Tier 2 for the past several years, we were able to convince Congress to give them “preferred” enlistment status so that homeschoolers scoring above a 50 on the AFQT could enlist without limitations. However, despite our best efforts, some homeschoolers did not always receive the same benefits they would have received if they had been Tier 1.

We are excited that the Pentagon has taken this step to place homeschoolers back in Tier 1 where we believe they rightly belong.

Until the new study is completed, Capt. Arendt has assured us that he will work closely with us to resolve any problems.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to media@hslda.org.

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