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Homeschooling away from home [Commentary]

StudentsColleges and UniversitiesCommunity CollegesHigh SchoolsSchoolsUniversity of Maryland, College Park

Maryland home education policy needs to be updated to give it more flexibility, to the benefit of all students. Current policy requires that students take either all of their classes or none of them at public school, which means homeschool students like myself cannot enroll in the public school classes that our parents have paid for in taxes.

Administrators and teachers have told me they would be glad to invite me to take classes such as biology or band at their schools, but they cannot due to current policy — policy that doesn't even make sense to them.

One person suggested that homeschoolers are barred from public school classes because our educational environment is different from public schools. Yet my education is indistinguishable from many public school students. I take classes primarily online and at community college, and I routinely meet other public school students who have been bused to community college because their school doesn't offer a particular class. One Bethesda high school student I talked to said most of his classes were at Montgomery College. Thus, like me, he is more of a Montgomery College student than a Walter Johnson High School student. Public school students also take some classes online, just like I do. Since the current policy bars me from Maryland's online classes, I take them from institutions such as Florida's Virtual School or Stanford's Education Program for Gifted Youth instead.

Policies that distinguish between public school and homeschool students are drawing a distinction that doesn't really exist. Homeschooled or public schooled, we study the same subjects, live in the same neighborhoods, play in the same youth orchestras, run in the same races, go to the same churches, attend the same summer programs, take the same tests and ultimately matriculate in the same colleges.

Flexibility is especially important as technology revolutionizes education. Lectures are being recorded by hundreds of colleges, flashcards are being digitized by Quizlet and homework is being assigned online via WebAssign. Communication between students has turned to instant messaging and video chats, and information is available online like never before. Of course, there may be education still better left in a typical classroom environment, but in the rapidly changing education delivery models of today, politicians can't be expected to know the educational environment that is best for every student, nor even the full breadth of available options. Thus, flexibility and customization are a sine qua non to a superior education in today's world.

Unfortunately, homeschoolers currently cannot even participate in public school extracurricular activities. A bill that would have allowed that, the "Fairness for All Children Act," died in committee last year. When I wrote to Del. Michael Hough, one of the bill's sponsors, offering to do anything I could this year to assist the reintroduction of the bill, he said he was too busy to resubmit it.

Is there any reason for Maryland's absurd policies? When homeschooling was legalized in Maryland in 1987, little was known about what it would look like. Many raised concerns about whether we would actually work, or would turn out socially stunted, ignorant of the diverse world around us and less prepared for college than our public schooled peers. Ultimately, some feared, we would be less successful in our adult life.

Homeschoolers have proven with éclat that these fears are unfounded, time and time again. We score well above national averages on standardized tests — 30 or more percentile points higher, according to a comprehensive study by the National Home Education Research Institute. And, homeschoolers like myself are often enrolled in university or college classes before finishing high school.

Surely if homeschoolers can take classes at public institutions like Montgomery College or the University of Maryland, we ought to be able to take classes at Gaithersburg High School. Allowing high achieving students to take public school classes would benefit the public schools as well. It's a win-win situation.

Matthew Coile is a homeschool junior who lives in Gaithersburg. His email address is matthew.coile@gmail.com.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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StudentsColleges and UniversitiesCommunity CollegesHigh SchoolsSchoolsUniversity of Maryland, College Park
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