Thursday, March 4, 2010

Are the Doubters Right about Homeschooling for High School?

Critics of homeschooling often question the ability of parents to effectively teach their high school aged children: "It's one thing to be teaching addition and subtraction but what about Algebra II and Trigonometry?"

I've never really worried about this issue since I'm familiar with the multitude of options for teaching high school level math. Everything from DVD/CD-ROM courses like Teaching Textbooks or Chalk Dust to online courses through Stanford EPGY or Johns Hopkins CTY to enrolling in classes at the community college, etc.

But today I came across some numbers that gave me pause & made me wonder if perhaps the doubters might actually have a point. For various reasons that are outside the scope of this blog post, I was looking at the CA Dept. of Ed's Standardized Testing and Reporting website for a local virtual charter school. What leaped out at me was how poorly the high school students did on the state tests relative to the performance in earlier grades. While few of the elementary and middle school students in the charter scored in the "below basic" or "far below basic" categories, a large percentage of the high school students did- and the percentage increased dramatically from 9th to 10th to 11th.

I wondered if this was a problem at the other virtual charter schools in the area so I checked the results for those. Here's what I found:
English % Below Basic or Far Below Basic

Grade 9 Grade 10 Grade 11
School A 21% 37% 52%
School B 20% 28% 31%
School C 14% 25% 45%
School D 12% 12% 35%
Average 17% 26% 41%

Math % Below Basic or Far Below Basic

Grade 9 Grade 10 Grade 11
School A 54% 80% 94%
School B 61% 78% 71%
School C 74% 94% 92%
School D 47% 63% *
Average 59% 79% 86%

*Too few students to report.

At first glance, I found these numbers pretty disturbing. It appeared that the longer the children homeschooled, the worse they did, especially in math. By the time they reached 11th grade, between roughly a third and half were scoring low in English and the overwhelming majority were scoring low in math.

When I came across the asterisk in the results for the 4th school, I suddenly realized that the numbers of students enrolled in the charter school decreased pretty significantly each grade from 8th-onward:

Number of Students 8th 9th 10th 11th
School A 711 497 299 136
School B 197 161 138 122
School C 111 102 72 63
School D 93 58 46 23
Average 278 205 139 86

Suddenly it all made sense- there is adverse selection going on. In the area where I live, it is common for homeschooling families to enroll their teens in either a brick-and-mortar high school or to just go straight to community college. I was aware of this, but didn't make the connection with the lower test scores at first.

It makes sense that the higher-achieving students are the ones more likely to move on from homeschooling to another option. The ones left behind in the charter are disproportionately the ones who are either behind academically or just from families with different educational priorities than standardized tests & Ivy League admissions.

Should we as a society worry about these kids? That's a tough question. To me, it depends on the reason for the low score. If the student just has different priorities I'm not really concerned. After all, not every kid is destined for college. A teen who wants to be a mechanic may be perfectly successful in life even if he never manages to pass the CA state algebra test.

The homeschooled children I worry about are those whose parents are failing in their responsibility to provide an adequate education. Is this a widespread problem? Probably not as much as critics of homeschooling fear. And it is almost certainly dwarfed by the number of children failed by government-run schools. Still, those of us who support homeschooling need to acknowledge that it isn't always the best option for every single child.


Karen said...

You might also want to consider kids who would be in special ed programs as another category of those not testing well. Special needs students seem to be a growing population of homeschoolers. This is a group that could be being well served by homeschooling but still testing below grade level.

Crimson Wife said...

Special needs kids would fall under my category of having different educational priorities. It's analogous to how my younger two are below the 3rd percentile on the growth charts. My pediatrician isn't worried because their growth curve runs parallel to the normal one. They're making progress, just outside the typical parameters :-)

Kirsten said...

Well, that might imply that you, also, might rethink when it comes to high school. You may decide to advance your children to community college or put them into the high school, like many of your SES peers.

The evidence that you are closely examining shows that many committed homeschoolers change their mind when it comes to the high school years.

LivingOurWay said...

At this point we are still planning to homeschool our kids through most of the high school years. My husband and I have both had through calculas 2 and are certified to teach in our state. We may choose to send them to community college if that is fit. We do not have virtual charters as an option here or I may also consider that option if it is available.

Barbara Frank said...

I don't consider virtual charter school to be the same thing as homeschooling because (at least where I've lived) you use the state's curriculum, etc. instead of being able to choose your own.

I've homeschooled three through high school, and simply used their ACT scores (taken annually beginning in 8th grade) to make sure they were doing fine. They were. One chose not to go to college and has been on her own for seven years. Another graduated from college with honors in 2007. The third is in culinary training (tech school)now. We've seen similar results among their homeschooled friends. I don't worry about homeschooled kids. My concern is for the kids hurt by public education.


Janine Cate said...

I know a few families who have used the local virtual charter school option. None of them were long-term homeschoolers. All began homeschooling in middle school or high school. Some began because the child was failing at their local school.

Most of my homeschool friends use the R4 option and don't take the state's tests at all.

We use the R4 option and do standardized testing through a private company which doesn't report the scores to the state.

I do admit that we have one category in which my children score below average: spelling.

If you have read our blog regularly, that probably doesn't come as a great surprise. If it weren't for a spell checker, I don't know how I would have graduated from college. ;)

Ahermitt said...

Woa! That was scary...

but like others have pointed out... Charter school results don't necessarily represent homeschooling results...

Unfortunately too many people use charter schools when they are afraid to do it on their own and end up pacified by the fact that it is state certified... never mind the fact that the education is mediocre.

David said...

The face of education is rapidly changing around the world. No longer is a student required to sit in a classroo and listen to a teacher to get a quality education. This includes the high school student. There are many families that have educated their own children at home with outstanding results. You do not have to be a teacher to accomplish high school education at home. With a simple internet connection you can get a complete high school curriculum or additional AP classes for your high school student. Several of your replies have talked about virtual charter schools. Unfortunately many of these schools are simply a reflection of the failed mentality of the public school system. However, there are some great virtual schools online. Simply do your research, look at the accreditation and spend some time with the curriculum. A final note about high school home schooling. View the ACT SAT scores for homeschoolers compared to brick and mortar.