misconceptions about homeschooling

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.


The Truth About Having It All

Must-read for homeschool parents: The truth about having it all. (Spoiler: You can, but only if you're willing to rethink your idea of what "it all" really is.) #homeschool

There was a time when I believed that I could do it all. I could work and be a mother and wife and also have my own interests—and importantly, I’d do it all dazzlingly well and my hair would look good, to boot. Way back, before I’d even had children, I think I imagined my future self as doing all of these things because that’s the yarn the 1970s and 80s spun for its daughters and sons: women can do it all, have it all, without smudging their blue eye shadow or putting a feathered hair out of place.

Imagine my shock when I actually had a baby in my arms: my own baby who needed and wanted me 24/7, who made rational thought seemingly-impossible, who made punctuality a thing of the past. Have it all? For goodness sake, I couldn’t even have a shower.

Later, when I began homeschooling my children, it became apparent that whatever career or other aspirations I had would need to take a back seat for a while longer than I’d originally envisioned. I felt excited about making homeschooling my full-time job, but also somewhat despondent that the ideas and enthusiasm I had for my work couldn’t come to fruition at the pace I’d envisioned. I love homeschooling. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t also love my work, my interests, my hobbies, my passions.

I love homeschooling. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t also love my work, my interests, my hobbies, my passions.

I look back and think of what I’ve had to release in order to be at home with my children. You might call them “sacrifices.” But I choose to frame them differently. Instead of thinking of what I gave up to be with my children, I am filling my frame with all that I have received. Instead of dwelling on what I could have been, I rejoice in what I am.

Since beginning this journey of parenthood I have learned so many things. I’ve taught myself how to cook, to knit, to crochet. I’ve learned how to communicate with compassion, to respect others’ needs and appreciate my own. I’ve learned to look myself in the mirror and accept myself regardless of what I look like or how much sleep I’ve had. I’ve come to measure my worth against my own balance sheet rather than my employer’s, or anyone else’s for that matter. I’ve learned that I have instincts and I’ve adjusted my antennae so I’m tuned into them.

I’ve grown. I’ve changed. I opened my hands and released all that I held, and into those empty hands fell different, unexpected gifts. I do have it all. It’s just not the “all” that you might expect.


"Homeschooling Must Be Really Hard."

Love this! All the things that run through your head when someone says "Homeschooling must be so hard" or "I could never homeschool my kids." #homeschool

Today we spent an incredibly satisfying hour sitting beside our brand new wildlife pond, watching dragonflies lay their eggs in it. A few weeks have passed since we dug this pond. It appears that wildlife has discovered it now, and it’s teaming with little squiggly things. To anyone who claims that children have a short attention span, I wish they could have seen the attention my children gave these dragonflies today. Magic.

Those of us who home educate (homeschool) our children are used to hearing inquisitive and somewhat incredulous comments like, “But are you a teacher?” And, “How do your children socialize?” Or this beauty: “Is that even legal?!” People have all sorts of things to say about home education, especially where I live, because it’s fairly unusual and a lot of people have never even heard of it.

Sometimes people say, “Wow. That must be really hard.” I don’t think they necessarily mean that teaching primary level skills is a challenge. What I think they might mean is that being around your children all day, and carrying the weight of responsibility for their education, must be hard. They usually follow up their comments with something along the lines of, “I could never do that.”

It’s awfully nice of them to try to commiserate with me, but I think the thing that’s missing here is that, believe it or not, I am actually choosing to home educate my children. And most of the time I love being around them. But whenever I hear people say, “Wow, that must be hard,” I think to myself, yeah, it’s hard.

“Wow, that must be hard.” Yeah. It’s hard.

“Wow, that must be hard.” Yeah. It’s hard.

“Wow, that must be hard.” Yeah. It’s hard.

Then I find myself thinking all sorts of negative thoughts about home education. And I wonder where my joy has gone.

It’s been a few weeks since anyone has told me how hard my life must be and I’ve noticed that my life is not actually the vale of tears everyone thinks it is. I have a renewed sense of clarity and I wonder how I got talked into the idea that home education is a penance for martyrs. I remember that there are some glittering moments in every day when I think, “This is why we do this.” Today’s dragonfly magic was one such moment.

Of course there are other times when I so desperately want to be alone, I can feel it beneath my skin. I have a list of interesting ideas and projects I want to sink my teeth into, yet round every corner I meet a new needy person who wants me to do something. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. English, maths and spelling. Build a Hot Wheels track with me, edit a film with me, help me feed my caterpillars. Predictably, I sit down at my computer or unfurl my yoga mat, and it’s as though I’ve rung the dinner bell and everyone comes running.

This is what they’re referring to when they say it must be hard. What I’ve found is that the more I focus on the hard the less I focus on the magic. When I fill my mind with what I don’t like about it, I forget about the gratitude I feel that I am fortunate enough to be able to do this for my family. Being held in awe or pity, or commiserated with means I am a martyr, or worse, a victim. I am neither.  Sure, home educating my children can be hard, but it is a joyful kind of hard, like a diamond in all its surprising, sparkling brilliance.