Friday, March 19, 2010

"Thinking Through Grammar" by Dr. Arthur Whimbey

I mentioned earlier that I've made some changes for the 2nd semester in our homeschool. One area where I've made some changes is in Language Arts. Miss Scarlet has finished Story Grammar for Elementary Students and has started the "town" level of the Michael Clay Thompson (MCT) program. We're loving the vocabulary and poetry components of the program but the jury is still out on the grammar & writing portions. That's a post for another day, however.

As Miss Scarlet was doing an exercise in one of her MCT books today, I noticed she was struggling with a prepositional phrase. So I decided to have her work through a chapter in Thinking Through Grammar: 5th and 6th Grade by Dr. Arthur Whimbey. This is the book I'm planning on having her do once she's done with MCT. I had taken a chance on ordering it sight unseen as I wasn't able to find any samples on the web of the middle school level book.

Thinking Through Grammar is a solid, no-nonsense consumable work-text. It is designed to be self-teaching. Because Miss Scarlet is much further ahead cognitively than her physical writing skills, I allowed her to dictate the answers orally while I transcribed. You can see one of the pages she did today here.

Sample page from "Thinking Through Grammar" -

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Required Reading for Toyota Owners!

My mom owns a Prius so you can imagine how nervous the story of the runaway Prius in San Diego made me :-0

We also own a Toyota and while it hasn't shown up on any of the recall lists so far, we keep hearing rumors that the true problem may date back well before 2004 when we bought our car.

If you or anybody you know drive a Toyota, make sure you read this article on how to stop your car in the event the throttle gets stuck.

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.