Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Are Homeschoolers Well Prepared for College?

One of the favorite complaints of the anti-homeschooling crowd is that homeschoolers are getting to college unprepared. I find that criticism a bit ridiculous, considering how poorly public schools are preparing kids for college; still, it's only fair to attempt to address it from time to time. The most recent post I've seen on the topic is from Greg Laden's blog, and is entitled "The Homeschooler Mind Set." (I found this through a well-written response from another homeschooling blogger, "She's Right." I HIGHLY recommend you go see her response - it isn't very long and it's excellent. Still, I think I have a few things to add to what she said, so here goes.)

In case you don't feel like clicking over to read Greg's blog, let me see if I can summarize. He basically says that while some homeschoolers do a reasonably good job, many teachers are not "generally happy with what shows up at their classroom door from Home Schooling Land." I think there's reason to address what he's saying. (The remainder of his post is made up of a poor analogy and uninformed opinion, along with some carefully selected quotes intended to make the majority of homeschoolers look like religious zealots or uninformed fools - I will not address any of that here.)

Here's how I responded (some minor editing changes made on the fly for the sake of this blog entry).

If you're going to post on how homeschooling is often not done well (and in fact I believe that shows you're making progress - I remember some months ago your being against almost all homeschooling), you might consider whether quoting college professors really helps your case all that much. Certainly, some college professors have had some homeschoolers who have done poorly. But how many college professors have complained about how their public-schooled students are doing? I believe you'd find FAR more complaints about public-schooled kids than about home-schooled ones. And the complaints about public-schooled kids are far more serious, because their deficiences tend to affect every area of their education. If they can't read, can't write, can't take notes, or won't follow directions, their entire future lives and careers are at stake (not just their success in the 6 units of science they have to take to get a B.A.).
Take a look at these quotes.

From James Gatti, in a comment on Vermont Tiger:

I have spent 35 years teaching economics and finance at the University of Vermont and have seen the dramatic decline all too closely. The ability of my students to read with comprehension, to calculate, to reason abstractly has eroded, but the most severe problem is a refusal to work as hard as is necessary to learn difficult material. I had a student take one of my required courses who had failed it with three other faculty members. She got the highest grade in the course when she took it with me. Why? Because she finally did what the other three faculty members and I told her to do. Do the readings when they are assigned. Do the problems as assigned. If you don't understand the readings or have trouble with the problems come and see us for help. It is not rocket science; it is hard work. They treat 4 years of college as an extended vacation.

From an article in the Des Moines Register, March 10, 2008:

"I just think it's unfortunate that such a large percentage of students who arrive at our door are in need of additional remediation to come up to the college level," said M.J. Dolan, executive director of the Iowa Association of Community College Trustees. . . .

Iowa community college students have been observed taking courses to catch up on junior high level skills, such as multiplying fractions, the basics of algebra, and identifying transition words that help connect ideas in written text. . . .

Laura Browne, associate dean of learning services at the Iowa Valley Community College District, said many incoming students need remedial reading and writing classes because they have spent so much time using grammatical shorthand to blog, send text messages and e-mail.

"They don't know how to write complete sentences," she said. "Spelling is a problem."

Jeri Lee, who teaches an elementary algebra course at Des Moines Area Community College, said students struggle in her class because they have become too dependent on the calculator.

"They never learn the basic facts," Lee said. "Their mind-set is, 'Let the machine do it for me.' "

Or this, from ACT's National Curriculum Survey Policy Implications Report:

High school teachers believe state standards are preparing students well for college-level work; however, roughly 65 percent of postsecondary instructors responded that their state’s standards prepared students poorly or very poorly for college-level work in English/writing, reading, and science.


32 percent of high school teachers think students today are better prepared for college-level work—a percentage nearly two and a half times greater than that of postsecondary instructors who believe this.

Or this, from the Executive Summary of ACT's "Rigor At Risk" report on College Readiness:

Even when students take substantial numbers of additional courses, no more than three-fourths of them are ready for first-year college coursework. Despite the higher percentages of students who met the College Readiness Benchmarks and took more than the recommended core, still no more than 38 percent of these students are ready for first-year college science, no more than 60 percent are ready for first-year college social science, no more than 75 percent are ready for first-year college mathematics, and no more than 77 percent are ready for first-year college English. So, even taking additional higher-level coursework in high school does not lead to increased college readiness for many students.


Students who earn good grades in their high school courses are led to believe they are ready for college; unfortunately, many are not. Many students are receiving high grades in their high school courses, leading them to believe they are ready for college. But nearly half of ACT-tested 2005 high school graduates who earned a grade of A or B in high school Algebra II did not meet the ACT College Readiness Benchmark for Mathematics, and more than half of the graduates who earned a grade of A or B in high school Physics did not meet the ACT College Readiness Benchmark for Science.

In contrast, look at this from Chris Bachelder, the Associate Vice President of Hillsdale College:

I asked our admissions office to compare last year’s ACT science scores of homeschooled students with their conventionally-educated counterparts. The homeschoolers averaged in the 85th percentile on the science portion of the test, scoring one point below the average of all admitted students. Their scores in non-science areas were generally superior to the conventionally schooled students, and by a much greater margin than the alleged "deficiency" that (the author) suggests would warrant an enormous intrusion into the lives of homeschooling families.

All in all, our experience is that homeschooling is not only more cost effective but can produce results comparable to or better than private, parochial or public schools. For those interested in academic studies, there is a vast amount of literature available to the public supporting this conclusion.

Since public schools are already doing a notoriously poor job of preparing our kids for college, while many homeschoolers are doing an excellent job, why pick on the homeschoolers? So what if some of our homeschooled kids are not well prepared in science - clearly MANY public schooled kids (acccording to the ACT quote above, more than half of students earning an A or B in physics) are not well prepared in science, and many of them are also not well prepared in reading, writing, math, and even spelling.

Given the options, I'll stick with homeschooling. I can do what's necessary to remedy the possibility of a science deficiency; but if my public-schooled child is bringing home A's or B's in physics, and still not being well prepared for college science, how will I even know that, let alone remedy it?


Shawna said...

I cannot comment on how well prepared homeschoolers are for college mainly because my lack of experience with them and because so much of what is reported to the public are the great success stories, which leaves a lopsided picture.

But I can attest to the poor quality of preparation of publicly schooled students, having taught them, observed them and having been one of the!

I was a decent student myself and in fact selected to skip over some high school classes to begin college early--I did not do so due to my parents divorcing at the time and my sister and I taking a back seat in life... regardless, the first thing "I" noticed in university was how unprepared I was for it! Even community college hadn't prepared me for what was required and in fact I look 18 months of between community college and university so as to mature and arrange my life so that I could dedicate myself to university.

As I home educate my 2nd grader I often find myself reviewing concepts with him and saying, "Now pay attention, because even my high school students couldn't keep this one straight/ spell this/ compute this/etc." It motivates him and saddens me that my high school students hadn't even internalize nor retained basic 2nd grade material.

My own children, whom are in public high school and attended public schools their who academic lives, fall short in many areas. Where their interests lie they do VERY well; in the basics, they often falter. In fact 3 of my adult children have not had success in community college and have fumbled terribly in the basics of living (finances, economics, self-sufficiency, finding out what they need to help them in various aspects of living: where and how to file taxes, where and how to obtain car insurance, where to go vote and how to find out where to go vote, trying to decide which political party they want to register for--what is a Democrat, what is a Republican, etc.) Yes, dad and I emphasized these things at home and as parents; we both were self-sufficient, independent, intelligent, avid readers and able to find what we needed in life to make it on our own as young people--each out of the house before 20... but considering that so much of our children's lives are spent on a school campus, I now see how much that influence overrides their learning until they are older and more mature and the teachings and examples of home begin to resurface and set in.

Again, I may not know much about how prepared home educated children are for the academic life of college, but I do know that many of those publicly schooled students simply are not!

Marcy Muser said...

Wow, Shawna, thanks so much for the confirmation! I was homeschooled myself all of my high school years, through the University of Nebraska correspondence school, and I slipped into college quite easily. My husband, on the other hand, was public schooled all the way through - and he was thrilled to end up with a C on his first exam at the same college. He says he had never really studied in his life; college was a rude awakening for him. He went on to do very well, and thanks to being married to me halfway through :) ended up graduating cum laude. But he was definitely a lot less prepared than I was.

homeschoolcollegecounselor said...

Great info, thanks for sharing. The majority of homeschoolers are very well prepared for college, although the steps to get there can be rather confusing at times. Keep up the great work!