This past weekend, I spoke at the Homeschoolers of Wyoming convention in Sheridan, Wyoming. I had never been to that part of the state before, so not only did I have a great time at the convention, I enjoyed visiting a new location. I gave four talks at the convention: Why Homeschool Through High School, Homeschooling: The Solution to our Education Problem, “Teaching” High School At Home, and Teaching Critical Thinking. In addition, I got to speak with several homeschoolers while I was hanging out at my publisher’s booth in the exhibit hall.
During one of those times, I experienced something that probably doesn’t happen very often outside of homeschooling circles. I was speaking with a mother about her teenage daughter’s options when it comes to science. The daughter was there as well. She wanted to be a forensic anthropologist, and the mother wanted to know what sciences her daughter should be taking in high school. I told her that the three subjects she should definitely take are biology, chemistry, and human anatomy, because they would all have a direct bearing on forensic anthropology. As a result, they would give her a good idea of the kind of science she would be doing if she chose that field. She should also strive to take physics, but it would not have as much direct bearing on her field as the other three.
Since the daughter had not taken any of those subjects yet, I suggested that she should start with biology. She began looking at my biology text and mentioned a few things she liked about it. She then asked me some questions regarding specific aspects of the course. Then she asked me the following question:
My main concern is, will this book challenge me enough?
I have to tell you, that’s a question you rarely hear from a teenager when it comes to a textbook! Nevertheless, it isn’t the first time I have been asked that question by a high school student at a homeschool convention. That’s one of the many reasons I love working with homeschooled students! They understand that education is important, and many of them actually want to be challenged by it!
Of course, I got some great questions from the parents as well. For example, at the end of my Homeschooling: The Solution to our Education Problem talk, a parent asked what I thought would happen to the SAT and ACT as a result of the new Common Core educational standards. She also wanted to know how I thought it would affect homeschoolers. If you aren’t familiar with the abbreviations, the SAT and ACT are the two standardized tests used by most universities to help them evaluate prospective students. Most college-bound students take either the SAT or the ACT, and many take both.
In answer to the first part of the parent’s question, I said that I don’t think Common Core will affect the SAT or ACT all that much. Yes, both tests will strive to be consistent with the Common Core standards, but both tests also need to be good indicators of a student’s success in college. As a result, the standards of the SAT and ACT will be focused mostly on the student’s mathematics and linguistic skills. I have no doubt that both tests will be aligned with Common Core, but in terms of what those tests cover, they are very closely aligned already. Thus, I don’t see a lot of changes to those tests as a result of Common Core.
However, I could be very, very wrong on that point. It is possible that lots of Common Core nonsense might start showing up on the SAT and ACT. Nevertheless, I don’t think that affects my answer to the second part of the parent’s question. I told her that even if the SAT and ACT change significantly as a result of Common Core, I don’t think that will strongly affect homeschoolers’ performance on those tests. There are two main reasons:
(1) Common Core standards are mediocre at best. The average homeschooled student academically outperforms his or her peers (see here, here, here, and here, for example), so if the SAT I and ACT tests do get “dumbed down” to the level of the Common Core standards, they will simply become easier for homeschooled students, not harder.
(2) The vast majority of homeschooled students spend time specifically studying for the SAT or ACT. All students should. Because of that, any relevant Common Core nonsense that the student missed while getting an academically superior education will be covered by that process.
Now, of course, I don’t mean to imply that responsible adults shouldn’t fight the Common Core. Everyone benefits from a well-educated society, so even though the Common Core shouldn’t significantly affect a homeschooled student’s score on the SAT or ACT, you should still fight its adoption in your state. The key is that you should fight the standards not because they will adversely affect your child, but because they will adversely affect the nation as a whole.