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|
|Math||% Below Basic or Far Below Basic|
|Grade 9||Grade 10||Grade 11|
*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|
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.