homeschool myths

Homeschool Myth-Busting: High School Edition

Common myths about homeschooling high school -- busted!

Once upon a time, homeschoolers were more likely to turn to traditional schools when high school rolled around—fewer than 17 percent of the 210,000 homeschooled kids reported by the U.S. Department of Education in 2001 were high school students. There are lots of reasons parents may choose not to homeschool their teens through high school, but don't let false fear be one of them. 

Myth:  High school is too difficult for the average parent to teach.
Fact: You don’t have to teach everything.

In many ways, homeschooling high school can be much simpler than the early years because your teen is capable of independent study. Just be honest with yourself: What are you capable and willing to teach, and what do you need to outsource? Maybe you love the thought of digging deeper into history, but the prospect of teaching trig makes you want to break out in a cold sweat.  Outsource subjects you don’t want to tackle—co-op classes, tutors, community college, online classes are all great options. As your student advances, your job will shift from teacher to educational coordinator—listening to him and guiding his class choices and extracurricular activities to prepare him for the college or whatever post-high school path he's interested in. It also means keeping track of classes for his transcript, staying on top of testing deadlines for standardized and achievement tests, and helping him start to hone in on the best people to ask for letters of recommendation. 

 

Myth:  Homeschoolers can’t take Advanced Placement (AP) tests.
Fact: Homeschoolers can take AP tests—whether they take official AP classes or not.

AP is a brand-name—like Kleenex or Band-Aid—which means the College Board gets to decide whether or not you can call your child’s course an AP class. (The College Board has a fairly straightforward process for getting your class syllabus approved on their website, and few homeschoolers run into problems getting their class approved.) You can build your own AP class using the materials and test examples on the College Board website and call the class “Honors” or “Advanced” on your transcript—and your child can take the AP test in that subject as long as you sign him up on time and pay the test fee. (Homeschoolers have to find a school administering the test willing to allow outside students, which may take some time. You’ll want to start calling well before the deadline.) If you’re nervous about teaching without an official syllabus, you can sign up for an online AP class or order an AP-approved curriculum. And remember: just because you take an AP class doesn’t mean you have to take the test.

 

Myth:  It’s hard for homeschoolers to get into college.
Fact: Homeschooled kids may actually be more likely to go to college than their traditionally schooled peers.

This myth may have been true 20 years ago, but not anymore. Researchers at the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) found that 74 percent of homeschooled kids between age 18 and 24 had taken college classes, compared to just 46 percent of non-homeschoolers. In fact, many universities now include a section on their admission pages specifically addressing the admissions requirements for homeschooled students. In 1999, Stanford University accepted 27 percent of its homeschooled applicants—twice the rate for public and private school students admitted at the same time. Brown University representative Joyce Reed says homeschoolers are often a perfect fit at Brown because they know how to be self-directed learners, they are willing to take take risks, they are ready to tackle challenges, and they know how to persist when things get hard. 

 

Myth:  You need an accredited diploma to apply to college.
Fact: You need outside verification of ability to get into college.

Just a decade or so ago, many colleges didn’t know what to do with homeschoolers, and an accredited diploma helped normalize them. That’s not true anymore. (In fact, you may be interested to know that not all public high schools are accredited—only 77 percent of the high schools in Virginia, for example, have accreditation.) What you do want your child’s transcript to reflect is non-parent-provided proof of academic prowess. This can come in the form of graded co-op classes, dual enrollment courses at your local college, SAT or ACT scores, awards, etc. Most colleges are not going to consider whether your child’s high school transcript was accredited or not when deciding on admissions and financial aid.

 

Myth:  A portfolio is superior to a transcript.
Fact: The Common App makes transcripts a more versatile choice.

Portfolios used to be the recommended way for homeschoolers to show off their outside-the-box education, but since more and more schools rely on the transcript-style Common Application, portfolios have become a hindrance. (Obviously, portfolios are still important for students studying art or creative writing, where work samples are routinely requested as part of the application process.) In some ways, this format is even easier to manage than a portfolio—you can record high school-level classes your student took before 9th grade and college courses he took during high school in convenient little boxes. And don’t worry that your student won’t be able to show what makes him special: The application essay remains one of the best places to stand out as an individual. Some schools even include fun questions to elicit personal responses: The University of North Carolina, for instance, asks students what they hope to find over the rainbow.

 

Myth:  Homeschooled kids don’t test well.
Fact: On average, homeschoolers outperform their traditionally schooled peers on standardized tests.

All that emphasis on test prep in schools doesn’t seem to provide kids with a clear advantage come test time. Homeschooled students score 15 to 30 percentile points above the national average on standardized achievement tests regardless of their parents’ level of education or the amount of money parents spend on homeschooling. That includes college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT. Research compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics shows that homeschoolers scored an average 1083—67 points above the national average of 1016—on the SAT in 1999 and an average 22.6 (compared to the national average of 21.0) on the ACT in 1997. This doesn’t mean these tests aren’t important—good scores can open academic doors—but it does mean you may not have to worry about them as much you’d thought.

 

Myth:  Homeschooled kids are not prepared for college.
Fact: Homeschooled kids adapt to college life better than their traditionally schooled peers.

This one always makes me laugh. Homeschooled kids probably have more hands-on life experience than their traditionally schooled counterparts. Homeschooled kids are usually more active in their communities, and because homeschooling is a family affair, they are more likely to have everyday life skills—the ones you need to make lunch for yourself or comparison shop for a tablet. Homeschooled teens also tend to be active participants in their own education, figuring out ways to manage their time and workload with their social lives long before they start college. Most importantly, they are able to interact and work with people of different ages, backgrounds, and cultures in a positive way, which is really the most important life skill of all. Perhaps that’s why homeschoolers are more likely to graduate from college (66.7 percent of homeschoolers graduate within four years of entering college, compared to 57.5 percent of public and private school students) and to graduate with a higher G.P.A. than their peers. Homeschoolers graduate with an average 3.46 G.P.A., compared to the average 3.16 senior G.P.A. for public and private school students, found St. Thomas University researcher Michael Cogan, who compared grades and graduation rates at doctoral universities between 2004 and 2009.  

This article was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of home | school | life, and we’re reprinting it online in 2016.


What's So Special About Homeschooling?

what's so special about homeschooling? one mom's answer to the "homeschooling must be so hard" misconception

A few weeks ago I gently ripped open a little paper packet, tipped some seeds into my hand and dropped them into the earth in an even line. Using the flat of my palm to pull some soil across the row, I breathed in the sweet smell of dirt, bathed in birdsong and allowed the sun to drape itself across my shoulders like a familiar shawl. In a few moments, the children came tearing out into the garden, rolling over each other like a pair of lion cubs, tugging at each other’s ears, pressing their thumbs into the other’s arm pits, cackling wildly. Soon the youngest was in tears, as red in the face as the radishes I’d just sown. Their play-fighting had inevitably, painfully, turned into real fighting.

It was time to stop parting the earth and start parting the children. No longer could I crouch and sow, pushing aside worms and soil. Sighing deeply and brushing the dirt from my hands, it was time to return to the other ‘dirt’ of my life—the sweet and fertile soil of being with my children all day, every day, with all the laughter and tears that brings.

In the UK, homeschooling is still very much a novelty: it’s something unusual and special. There are only two homeschooling families in my town, and at home ed meet-ups we see the same faces, the same handful of families who are striking out on this uniquely less-trodden path. When I tell other people we meet that my children are home educated, their eyes fill with wonder and they usually breathe, “That sounds hard.”

Maybe they think I’m ringing a bell in the morning and teaching my children subject after subject of material I haven’t seen since my own days in primary school. Maybe they’re wondering how I manage to teach two children of such different age and ability. Maybe they can’t figure out how I can stand being with my children all the time. In their eyes I can see what they’re thinking: I must be incredibly patient, intelligent, even martyr-like. I must be able to do things and maybe I even know things that they don’t know. I must somehow be special.

Yes, being with children all day is demanding. The intensity of being forever on call, available, responsible is tiring. In some ways, things were easier when my older children trotted off to school and I could canoodle with my baby. But I missed my children; oh how I missed them. When they came home with their tales of playground pettiness and teacherly impatience, I’d suffer and seethe with indignation and impotence. Now that we are homeschooling the responsibility firmly resides with us. I prefer it that way.

Yesterday my youngest child and I tipped his little troop of caterpillars into a tray and sat side by side with our chins resting in our hands. We watched them wiggle about and crawl over the leaves. My nine year old, reciting her seven times table under her breath, stopped to watch the caterpillars too. “Wow, those are amazing,” she said.

“I know,” my son replied with shining eyes, resting his cool hand on the back of my neck. “They’re so beautiful I can hardly resist them!” Then he made two little fists and squealed in a way that made my tummy cartwheel.

I’m no martyr. Being with my children, taking responsibility for their education, guiding them into a life of contentment: it’s what I choose and enjoy. That’s not to say it’s easy. But it’s definitely something special.