washingtonpost.com
Excluding Home-Schoolers Benefits Nobody

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dear Extra Credit:

Eight years ago, our kids' elementary schools could not or would not meet their academic needs, so we began our journey into home schooling.

Unfortunately, Maryland, where we live, has long been unfriendly to nontraditional forms of education, whether it's home schooling, charter schools or choice within the public schools.

In fact, over the past couple of years, Maryland regulatory agencies have stripped home-schoolers of their right to be included in the nonpublic school portion of funding for students with disabilities, and have prohibited school sports teams from playing opposing teams that include home-schoolers, a decision that was overturned only after a court fight.

Recently, a representative of our local middle school decided that our younger son couldn't join an after-school bridge club that is (1) sponsored by an outside organization and (2) has three (yes, three) members. It is unfortunate that the school's "core value" of "honoring diversity" does not extend far enough to encompass other children in the community it serves.

During last year's legislative session, a bill was proposed in Maryland (HB 1249) that would have allowed home-schooled students, as space permitted, to take up to four classes in certain areas (art, science, math, foreign language and music) and participate in extracurricular activities. In return, the schools would receive additional funding, as if that student were enrolled. It would have been a win-win situation: The schools would get additional funding, and the home-schoolers who were interested could enroll in selected classes and activities. This arrangement is not uncommon. For instance, Tim Tebow, last year's Heisman Trophy winner, played football for his local high school in Florida while being home-schooled, because Florida law allows it.

The only two people who testified against the bill were paid lobbyists, one representing the State Department of Education and the other representing a county school system. Both cited liability concerns, although, when asked by legislators, both admitted not having done any research to determine how other states handle this hurdle.

The bill did not pass, but I hope that in the future, we will follow the example of states such as Florida and Iowa, which allow home-schoolers to participate in public school classes, sports and other activities. These states recognize that their interests are best served by improving the educational experience of all taxpayers' children, not just those in state-run schools.

Christine Keen

Bethesda

I admire your clarity and your calm. I would be spitting venom if such shortsightedness were hurting my kids. This bill makes sense to me. Anyone disagree? Of course, if we could clone Tebow and offer his services to a few strategically placed Maryland high schools, the change would sail through.

Dear Extra Credit:

If "Wide Access to AP, IB Isn't Hurting Anybody," as you said in your Nov. 3 Metro column, then how about those AP tests being made accessible in a format to be used with text-to-speech software for students who require such a reasonable accommodation?

The College Board has refused to provide its exams in a format to be used with Kurzweil text-to-speech technology. Yet students, such as my daughter, have used the Kurzweil software in middle school, high school and college courses.

Four years ago, the College Board denied the use of Kurzweil when my daughter took the SAT. Yet she was provided the Kurzweil software at her federal government workplace through CAP, the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program. In August, my daughter received a bachelor's degree in business administration, summa cum laude. Her employer offers the Kurzweil text-to-speech software as a reasonable accommodation. The College Board should, too.

Kathy Gilhooly

Montgomery County

I asked your good question of Trevor Packer, College Board vice president and director of the AP program. Here is his answer: "The College Board is committed to ensuring that all students with disabilities who require testing accommodations receive them. We provide equivalently effective alternatives to Kurzweil and other text reading software to ensure that students with disabilities who cannot read or require assistance with reading have an equal opportunity to participate in College Board tests. Alternative accommodations provided include, but are not limited to, readers, tests on cassette, Braille tests, enlarged texts (through larger font or magnifying devices) and other accommodations as appropriate to the student's needs.

"AP (as well as PSAT and SAT) exams are paper-and-pencil tests. In order for a student to use the Kurzweil or similar software, AP exams would have to be put on a disc and loaded onto the computer of the student prior to testing. The inherent increased security risks of placing AP exams on school computers (or computer networks) with e-mail, Internet and other capacities to disseminate the test broadly and instantaneously are not necessary when students can be, and are, effectively accommodated through other means."

I see Packer's point: You don't want to use a program that is vulnerable to cheating. But given the circumstances, I wonder whether some computer geniuses could work out a solution so students used to one software system didn't have to learn another, particularly when Kurzweil has been used for the ACT and some state tests.

Please send your questions, along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number to Extra Credit, The Washington Post, 526 King St., Suite 515, Alexandria, Va. 22314. Or e-mail extracredit@washpost.com.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company