ACT, Inc. is a non-profit organization best known for its standardized college entrance test: the ACT. However, the company does a wide range of assessments for educational institutions, policy makers, and researchers. Every three to five years, they perform the ACT National Curriculum Survey. In this survey, they sample educators at the middle school, high school, and college level, asking them several different questions that are aimed at discovering trends in United States Education. Honestly, I am not all that interested in such reports, but a colleague of mine send me a link to the latest ACT National Curriculum Survey, mentioning the graph reproduced above. I thought it was worth discussing.
In the survey, ACT contacted a representative sample of educators in both public and private educational institutions across the U.S. They received results back from 2,943 high school teachers and 3,596 college teachers. That’s a fairly healthy sample. They don’t go into the details of how they ensured that the sample was “representative,” but let’s assume that their methodology was reasonably correct.
They asked high school teachers how well their students would be prepared for college (in the subject matter they were teaching) after leaving their classes. As you can see, in 2012, 89% said “well” or “very well.” They asked college instructors how well prepared their incoming students were for the classes they were teaching, and as you can see, only 26% answered “well” or “very well.” The numbers were slightly different in 2009, but not significantly so.
While high school teachers think they are providing good college preparation in the courses they are teaching, college instructors disagree. In the end, they find that very few of their students are actually prepared for the classes they are teaching. As the report puts it:
A stark contrast still exists between high school teachers’ perceptions of their students’ readiness for college-level work and college instructors’ perceptions of the readiness of their entering students.
To anyone who has taught at the college level for a while, this isn’t really surprising. Most high school teachers don’t seem to agree with college instructors when it comes to determining how to prepare students for collegiate-level studies.
My colleague, of course, was pointing out the graph because this is a common source of frustration for him. He is a university professor, and he often teaches summer classes (or short seminars) for high school teachers. He tries to tell them what their student needs for good preparation when it comes to his subject matter, and the high school teachers are not very receptive to what he tells them. In fact, they often say he is being unreasonable when it comes to his expectations. I think this graph sums up his frustration very well.
When I saw the graph, however, I thought of something completely different. I spend very little time with school teachers, but I do spend a lot of time with homeschooling parents. When they start talking to me about their specific situation, they are usually their own worst critic. They tell me how poorly they think they are doing when it comes to giving their children a good high school education, and they ask me how they can improve. As I start probing them for specific information about what they are doing when it comes to science and math, I generally find that they are doing a great job! The statistics tend to support this, because homeschool graduates do very well in college compared to their peers (see here, here, here, and here, for example).
Now I haven’t done a scientific survey or anything like that, but it seems to me that homeschooling parents are significantly less likely to think they are doing a great job at college preparation, but the data indicate that they are. This, of course, is precisely opposite of the situation illustrated by the survey results shown in graph at the top of this post. Why is that? I think there are two main reasons.
First and foremost, the motivation of a homeschooling parent is significantly different from that of a teacher. Even the best, most dedicated teachers in the world don’t love their students as much as they love their own children. When your motivation is a deep, unconditional love, you go the extra mile time and time again to make sure you are doing things correctly. You go to conventions and listen to boring speakers like me. You go to blogs and read boring articles like this one. You talk with your friends who have already sent their children off to college to find out what worked and didn’t work for them (the most effective of the three things on this list). Rather than taking a class here and there as a part of some “continuing education” requirement, you do everything you can to make sure you are preparing your children for their future.
Second, parents tend to make up for their own weaknesses. It’s a natural thing that we do, often without even thinking about it. For example, I could never discipline my daughter. All she had to do was summon her tears (which she seemingly could do at will), and I was a quivering blob of Jell-O. However, my wife was immune to such things, so she was the disciplinarian. In our family, it wasn’t “Wait until your father gets home.” It was, “Wait until your mother hears about this!” Since homeschooling is just an extension of parenting, we do the same thing when it comes to college preparation. If we think we won’t do well helping our children learn in a particular subject, we do something about it. We get our spouse to take over that subject. We join a co-op. We find a tutor. We do something to make up for our weakness. Since we are constantly looking at and trying to make up for our weaknesses, we are less likely to recognize what a good job we are doing over all.
In the end, I think that most homeschooling parents do a better job of preparing their students for college than the majority of teachers in our public and private schools, even if they don’t recognize this themselves.