Why I Am Glad That I Homeschooled

My favorite picture of me and my little girl. It was taken in Capetown, South Africa in 2004, when we were on a homeschooling speaking tour.

My little girl turns 40 this month. I am not sure how to take that. In my mind, she is still that 16-year-old girl who loved Dan Marino, computer games, and ice cream cake. Where in the world did the time go? As I think about all the wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) times we have experienced together, I see a lot of mistakes that I made in parenting her. There are definitely things I would do differently if I could turn back the clock to the day we adopted her. However, the one thing I know I would not change is our decision to homeschool her.

We started homeschooling her as soon as we could, and the reason was simple: she was the classic example of a student who “fell through the cracks.” When she was having a good day, she learned well. When she wasn’t having a good day, she didn’t. As a result, there were large, gaping holes in her education. Not surprisingly, then, when she took the PSAT test, she scored in the bottom 35% of the nation in math and the top 25% of the nation in English. She wanted to get a college degree, because as far as she knew, no one in her biological heritage had one. Getting a degree would provide a tangible break from her past. However, with those scores, she would have a difficult time getting accepted to college, much less succeeding when she got there.

As a result, we spent most of her homeschooling in “educational triage.” We identified the holes in her education and then filled them. When she took the ACT (one of the standardized tests used for college entrance) early in her senior year, she scored in the top 5% in English and the top 30% in math. As a scientist, I decided that the numbers were the ultimate evidence that the decision to homeschool her was a good one. She ended up being accepted at Butler University and graduating with a degree in sociology (which, of course, she doesn’t use).

In my mind, then, homeschooling was all about academics. Our daughter wanted a college degree, and the only way we could prepare her for college was to homeschool her. Even after she had graduated college, I still thought that homeschooling her was all about academics. However, as time went on, my view of the matter began to change. As I celebrated the successes in her adult life and helped her deal with the failures, I started to notice that our relationship was very different from the relationships that most of my friends had with their adult children. Our daughter actually wants to spend time – lots of time – with us. For example, right now, as she is about to turn 40, she is on a mother-daughter vacation. When my wife suggested the idea to her, she was thrilled. At Christmas, I gave her a little picture book that had old and new photos of me, her, and my wife. When she opened it, her husband said, “Look at how her face just lit up.”

Why do I have a daughter who loves to spend time with me and her mother? If you ask her, it’s because we spent so much time together when she was young. In these days when children are separated from their parents by school, after-school activities, and other distractions, it’s hard to form a deep family bond. When you homeschool, you are not only using the best possible educational model to teach your child, but you are also doing something very few families do: you are spending a lot of time together. In the long run, that makes a huge difference!

Does that mean everyone who homeschools will have a great relationship with their adult children? Of course not! There are many, many factors that play into how people bond with one another. However, probably the most crucial of those factors is time that you spend together. The more time you spend with your children, the better you get to know them. Looking back on my homeschooling my little girl, I recognize that she got an incredible education. More importantly, however, we all got an amazing gift: lots of time to enjoy one another and grow closer together. Of all the wonderful things I can say about homeschooling, that is the most important.

What a Way to Bring in the New Year!

An aerial view of the Large Hadron Collider’s layout. The particle accelerator is used for high-energy physics experiments. (click for credit)

I wasn’t planning on writing a post today, but as I was going through my email, I saw a wonderful message from a homeschool graduated who used my curriculum, and I just had to post about it. I am keeping the person’s name and some of the professional details confidential (using square brackets to paraphrase and ellipses to cut), because I don’t want the person’s presence on a creationist blog to be harmful to his or her career. It’s sad that I have to do that, but many of the high priests of science are the most anti-science people on the planet, excommunicating those who do not accept their dogma.

Here is the wonderful message I received:

I am writing to thank you for your excellent high school science courses. As a homeschooler, I really appreciated the readability of the texts. The challenging material helped me to develop effective study habits, while your clear enthusiasm for each subject led me to develop a lasting interest in the sciences, especially physics. In fact, after working through Module 8 (“Gravity and Relativity”) of your Advanced Physics Course, I decided to pursue a career in physics. Though I didn’t really have any idea of what that would entail, I figured that your science courses would be an ideal preparation, and indeed they were! Largely due to to the strong foundation that your courses (Physical Science, Biology, The Human Body, Chemistry, Advanced Chemistry, Physics, and Advanced Physics) had provided me throughout middle school and high school, I was able to complete my BS in physics a year early. This helped me to be successful in the treacherous grad school application process, and I am now a [graduate student at a well-known university] pursuing a PhD in experimental particle physics; I’m [doing original research at facilities like the one pictured above]; these are goals that I have looked forward to for a long time. Your courses have been key in successfully beginning to achieve these goals…so thank you for helping to make all of this possible!

As one further note, I’d also like to add that I really appreciate how your texts touched on more advanced topics, even if only to ultimately concede that they were “beyond the scope of this course.” Though I found it a bit frustrating at the time, it really motivated me to keep pushing deeper into the subject, making it all the more satisfying to finally encounter the topic in a later class. For example, your brief description of solving the Schrodinger equation for hydrogen (page 50 of your Advanced Chemistry text) had me on the edge of my seat until finally reaching this problem in undergrad Quantum II. Currently, my Quantum Field Theory textbook tends to make the same sort of statements…and it reminds me of your superlative texts (though when I come across statements like these in QFT, it tends to make me relieved rather than frustrated – I’m happy to leave that particular calculation to the theorists!).

Anyway, I’m sure you get many messages like this, but I just really wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your texts and how much they have aided me in the career path that they inspired me to pursue…

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

There are so many wonderful things to say about this student’s message to me, but I will limit myself to two:

1) I love the fact that this person was “on the edge of” his or her seat because of a solution to the Schrodinger equation!

2) This once again demonstrates that Bill Nye has no idea what he is talking about when he claims that creationist materials are a detriment to science. This student learned junior-high and high-school science from creationist materials, and those materials inspired him or her to be doing the kind of original scientific research that Nye can only dream about doing.

Observations about Second-Generation Homeschoolers

One of several second-generation homeschoolers I have met this year.

This is “convention season” for homeschoolers across the United States, so I have been traveling to several different homeschool conventions, giving talks and speaking individually with lots of homeschooling parents. In some ways, these conventions never change. Many of the talks that I give are on the same topics that I spoke about at homeschooling conventions more than 20 years ago: how to “teach” science at home, why it is best for most students to be homeschooled through high school, and the fact that homeschooling produces graduates who are, on average, significantly better university students. Obviously, the details of the talks change every few years, but the basic points do not.

In the same way, many of the questions I get from homeschoolers are the same year after year and convention after convention. My son is only in 7th grade but is about to start Algebra 1. Should he really take high school biology? (In general, the answer is “yes,” but it depends on the student’s ability to work independently and how he reacts to academic rigor.) If he does take biology in 7th grade, can it be included on the high school transcript? (Once again, the answer is “yes.” See this article for more details.) My daughter is very talented in ballet and wants to pursue it as a career, but it requires a lot of rehearsal time. What should I do? (If a professional says that she has real potential, then you should scale back her other academic courses so that she can pursue her talents. Don’t neglect her education; just pare it down to the basic essentials so that she can have more time to hone her craft).

At the same time, however, each year brings a few changes. Some of the conventions that used to be large and well-attended are either very small or nonexistent. Other conventions that didn’t exist many years ago are now large and well-attended. Lots of new curricula are available, giving homeschoolers a wealth of choices for how to meet their children’s educational needs. The people you see at homeschooling conventions are also becoming more and more diverse every year.

This year, I noticed a new difference. Most likely, the difference has been slowly growing over a period of many years, but after speaking at the California Homeschool Convention this past weekend, it struck me that this year, I have interacted with a lot of second-generation homeschoolers (homeschool graduates who are now homeschooling their own children).

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Homeschooling: It’s Worth the Tears

This is the expression my daughter had pretty much every morning in home school.
There is a new blog that might be of interest to my homeschooling readers. It’s called Homschooling.mom, and as time goes on, it will offer insights from various speakers and authors who are popular in the homeschooling movement.

I wrote two of the articles that open up this blog. The most important one is

Homeschooling: It’s Worth the Tears

It discusses my homeschooling journey with my teenage daughter and what it has meant for both of us now that she is an adult.

The other one discusses some of the research that has been done on homeschool graduates in university. I have discussed the contents of that article in separate blog posts on this site, but the article below compiles the information into one source:

Homeschool Graduates and University

I hope you enjoy the articles. I also hope you remember to go back to homeschooling.mom, because I suspect that it will be very useful to those who are still homeschooling.

College Professors’ Impressions of Homeschool Graduates

A happy college graduate (click for credit)
A happy college graduate (click for credit)

Many of my readers probably know that I started working with homeschoolers because of my experiences with homeschool graduates when I was on the faculty at Ball State University. As a group, they were not only academically superior to their peers, but they were also significantly more well-adjusted. I often share this fact when I am speaking to homeschool audiences, so it didn’t surprise me when a homeschool blogger (Michelle) sent me some questions about my experiences with homeschool graduates at the university level. As I indicated to her, I have experienced homeschool graduates at both a secular university (Ball State) and a Christian university (Anderson University). Based on my experiences, I can state with some confidence that, on average, homeschool graduates excel at the university level, be it in a secular or Christian environment. Several studies back up those experiences (see here, here, here, here, and here).

Michelle told me that she was writing a blog post about professors’ impressions of homeschool graduates, and she asked me four specific questions. I answered them as best I could and then (like many things) promptly forgot about it. Yesterday, I received another email from Michelle, telling me that she had finished the project and had published her post. After reading it, I decided that I had to share it. I think it provides some really valuable insights, especially for parents who are currently homeschooling and want their children to pursue higher education.

Unlike the studies that I spend a lot of my time discussing, the results of her survey of college professors is not scientific. It has a tiny sample size and makes no attempt to be representative of the population of college professors as a whole. Nevertheless, it is incredibly valuable, because the college professors who were surveyed offer some excellent advice to homeschooling parents, and they provide perspectives about homeschool graduates in higher education that would be hard to measure in a more scientific survey.

I strongly encourage you to read the entire article, but I do want to offer a bit of “color commentary.”

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Yet Another Study Confirms The Effectiveness of Home Education

College graduates during their graduation ceremony  (click for credit)
College graduates during their graduation ceremony (click for credit)

As far as I know, I first encountered homeschool graduates when I was on the faculty at Ball State University. The ones I met stood out, even in a crowded chemistry or physics classroom. The more I researched homeschooling, the more I came to learn that this was the norm. On average, homeschool graduates are better prepared for college than their peers (see here, here, here, and here, for example). As a result, I started working with homeschoolers, and I began to understand why my homeschool graduates at Ball State University stood out: Homeschooling is a superior form of education for most students.

The data continue to support this fact. Consider, for example, a study that was published in the March 2013 edition of Catholic Education. The author examined the academic records of 408 students at Ave Maria University, a Roman Catholic university in South Florida. It is a fairly young university, founded in 2003 by the same man who founded Domino’s Pizza. In my mind, it makes perfect sense that a pizza man would open a university. The two seem to go together! Specifically, the university was founded as a conservative alternative to some of the more liberal Roman Catholic universities that exist in the U.S. As a result, it attracts a lot of homeschoolers, most of whom are Roman Catholic.

In the sample the author studied, there were 137 public school graduates, 142 students who graduated from catholic schools, and 129 homeschool graduates. The author compared four things among the three groups of students: SAT or ACT score, college grade point average (GPA), GPA by major, and GPA in the university’s “core” curriculum. The results are very interesting, and they demonstrate yet again that homeschooled students are simply better prepared for college than their publicly- and privately-schooled counterparts.1

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Another Amazing Homeschool Graduate

Talal Younes (left) with Dr. Tyler Hodges of William Carey University (right), who presented Talal with the Senior Biology Award.
I became interested in home education because while I was on the faculty at Ball State University, my best chemistry and physics students were homeschool graduates. The more I studied home education, the more clear it became to me that for most students, it produces a superior education. As a result, I started working with home educators, and eventually, I started writing curriculum for them. Over the years, I have been truly blessed to hear from homeschool graduates who have gone on to do great things in their chosen fields of study. For example, not all that long ago, I met up with Joshua Russell, an amazing homeschool graduate from Alaska. His performance in a summer college program was so impressive that he was awarded a full-ride scholarship to any school in the University of Alaska system!

Well, I recently heard from a justifiably proud parent regarding her homeschool graduate’s success. His name is Talal Younes, and the picture above shows him with one of his professors at William Carey University. The picture was taken at the Honors Day Convocation held by the university, and it shows him with the Senior Biology Award he received. This means that he was the outstanding senior biology student over the entire year. Of course, one award wasn’t enough for Talal, so he also received the Senior Chemistry Award at the same event!

As if that’s not enough, Talal’s mother was kind enough to share with me the title of his Senior Honors Thesis: “Proposal of a Novel Mechanism for Alpha-synuclein Induced Neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s Disease.” In order to receive graduation honors at William Carey University, a student must complete an honors thesis in his or her area of study. However, a student can’t just decide to do an honors thesis on his or her own. The student must be invited to do so by a faculty member who wishes to supervise the thesis. Thus, the very fact that Talal can do a Senior Honors Thesis tells you he was so impressive that a professor wanted to spend extra time and energy working with him!

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Another Study that Confirms Homeschool Graduates Outperform Their Peers in College

A happy graduate (Click for credit)

Last week, I spoke at the Great Homeschool Convention in Greenville, South Carolina. It was very well attended, and other than a fire alarm that interrupted one of my talks, it ran really smoothly. I gave two brand-new talks at this convention, and they were both done with Diana Waring, whose high school history curriculum is truly wonderful.

One of these new talks was on the myths that you find in textbooks. It started off with the myth that ancient people thought the earth was flat. There is simply no truth to such an absurd idea. As early as 200 BC, natural philosophers knew the circumference of the earth, and the earliest Christian writers who mention the shape of the earth (such as Basil of Caesarea – c. 330-379) mention the spherical shape of the earth as an accepted fact. No one thought that Columbus was going to sail off the edge of the earth. His problems getting funding involved people not thinking he could carry enough supplies to make a voyage all the way around the earth. The other talk was based on a study by Dr. Harold McCurdy, which I have already discussed here.

While the talks I gave were enjoyable, as usual, the most interesting thing that happened occurred as a result of someone asking me a question. One of the solo talks I gave was called Why Homeschool Through High School. As a part of that talk, I discuss studies in which homeschool graduates are compared to graduates of traditional schools when it comes to their performance in college. Not surprisingly, the homeschooled students do much better in college than their traditionally-schooled peers.

After the talk, a homeschooling parent who is also a college professor asked me a very interesting question. He asked me if any study had attempted to measure not the performance of homeschool graduates at the college level, but instead the preparation that homeschool graduates have when they arrive at college. After all, he said, a student can perform well at the college level even when he is unprepared, as long as he has the ability to learn on his own. I told him that the studies I had seen focused on performance, but I would take another look at the literature and see what I could find.

Well, it turns out that such a study has been done. It is a PhD dissertation, which is why I hadn’t seen it in the academic literature. It was done by a student at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and it at least partially addresses the question that the homeschooling parent asked.

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Homeschool Graduates Rock Baylor University

I was recently made aware of a 2010 analysis that was done by Baylor University’s Office of Institutional Research and Testing. It compared first-time Baylor freshman who were homeschool graduates to the rest of Baylor’s first-time freshman population over a period of four years. I think the results will be helpful to those who are wondering whether or not home education adequately prepares a student for the academic rigors of university.

The first thing the analysis noted was that homeschool graduates had significantly higher SAT and ACT scores than the rest of the population. The homeschool graduates, for example, averaged 115 points higher on the SAT than the rest of the student population. While that is interesting, the really important result is how the homeschool graduates performed in their freshman year at Baylor. In the end, the average homeschool graduate had a freshman grade point average (GPA) of 3.364, while the average for the rest of the freshman class was 3.038. Here is a bar graph that illustrates this result:

Average freshman GPA's for homeschool graduates and non-homeschool graduates at Baylor University from 2005 to 2009

The black bars on the graph are called error bars, and they demonstrate the possible error that exists in such a measurement. When you study a group of people, it is always possible that the people you have studied are not quite representative of the population you are trying to understand. As a result, whatever you measure might not be an accurate measurement of the population in general. Using statistics, it is helpful to estimate how much your measurement might be in error. The crudest way to do that is to use the size of the sample you are studying as a guide. The more people you study, the more accurate your representation of the population should be. In this analysis, they had a huge population of non-homeschool graduates (14,078) but a small population of homeschool graduates (151). As a result, the error associated with the homeschool graduates is large, while the error associated with the non-homeschool graduates is small.*

In general, the way you treat error bars is to assume that the measurement can actually be anywhere within the range of the error bar. For the homeschool graduates, then, the measured average was 3.364. However, based on the error bar, it could actually be anywhere from 3.090 to 3.638. For the non-homeschool graduates, the measured average was 3.038, but it could actually be anywhere from 3.012 to 3.064. The important thing to note is that even if you take the lowest value for the homeschool graduates and the highest value for the non-homeschool graduates, the average for the homeschool graduates is still higher. This means the analysis provides strong evidence that the average homeschool graduate does better than the rest of the population during his or her freshman year at Baylor. While I find that interesting, I think a more detailed look at the data is even more interesting.

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Homeschool Graduates and Community College

Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY (click for credit)

I try to keep up on all the latest research related to homeschooled students. Unfortunately, I seem to have missed a small study that was published in the summer 2008 edition of the Journal of College Admission. The study wasn’t done on homeschooled students; instead, it was done on community college admissions officers. The authors sent surveys to them, asking about their perceptions of homeschool graduates. I found several of the paper’s points rather interesting and worthy of some discussion.1

First, the paper reports on the results of another study I somehow missed. The study is a bit old (1998), but the results are worth noting. It examined the community college transcripts of 101 homeschool graduates and compared them to those of students who graduated from a traditional high school. The study found that both full-time and part-time homeschool graduates had significantly higher grade point averages (GPAs) than their peers. In addition, the study examined the results of the Texas Academic Skills Program, a test that all students who attend state-funded, post-secondary educational institutions in Texas are required to take. The test covers reading, writing, and mathematics. Once again, the homeschool graduates achieved significantly higher scores than their traditionally-schooled peers.2

Second, the paper discusses the admissions process for homeschool graduates at community colleges. It notes that only 50% of those that responded to the survey have an official policy regarding the admissions process for homeschool graduates. That surprised me. After all, you would think that community colleges would cater to nontraditional students, and homeschooled students are clearly nontraditional. Also, many homeschooling families are looking for ways to make college more affordable, since they generally have a number of children. As a result, you would think that community colleges would be a natural choice for many homeschool graduates. It seems to me, then, that it would be natural for the vast majority of community colleges to have an official policy regarding how homeschool graduates should be admitted.

Now while only 50% of the responding colleges had an official policy for the admission of homeschool graduates, 80% said that they had procedures in place that would allow for the admission of such students. Thus, even without an official policy, some community colleges still make it possible for homeschool graduates to be admitted. That’s good news, of course, but it makes me wonder why a school that allows for the admission of homeschool graduates doesn’t have an official policy regarding how that should be done!

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