Universities Seeking out Homeschoolers

“Home-Schooled Students Rise in Supply and Demand”

By PAULA WASLEY,  The Chronicle of Higher Education

For Katelin E. Dutill, high school began as soon as she woke up each day. During her senior year she would tackle her hardest courses first, while her 20-month-old sister was still asleep. That often meant taking a math or chemistry test and then turning to the teacher’s manual to grade it, or logging on to her Advanced Placement macroeconomics course. Later she might read for her literature class while keeping one eye on her sister, or conduct Internet research for her paper on the historical accuracy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels.

This fall Ms. Dutill, who has been home-schooled since kindergarten, is experiencing a classroom for the first time, as a freshman at Cornell University. She is one of thousands of home-schoolers entering colleges and universities around the country. The home-school movement, once considered the domain of religious fundamentalists and hemp-wearing hippies, is all grown up and going off to college.

While exact numbers are hard to come by, recent estimates by the U.S. Department of Education place the home-schooled population at more than one million, or about 2 percent of the school-age population. As recently as 20 years ago, home schooling was illegal in many states. Today its students are edging toward the mainstream — and are eyed by some colleges as a promising niche market.

Meet Us Halfway

As an admissions officer at Stanford University in the 1980s, Jon Reider began fielding inquiries from home-schooled students who, he says, seemed to have the “intellectual spark” the university was looking for, but who came without the transcripts and teachers’ recommendations that admissions offices rely on. He advised those students to take steps to reassure admissions officers: Take lots of standardized tests. Get a letter of recommendation from someone not related to you. Try taking a class at a local community college.

“College admissions people are a little like insurance adjusters,” says Mr. Reider, who is now a college counselor at a San Francisco high school. “We don’t want to sell insurance to people who smoke four packs a day.”

The suggestions soon became codified as Stanford’s written policy for home-schooled applicants, earning the university the reputation as one of the first to welcome them. The policy, he says, sent a message to home-schooled students: “We take you seriously. Now meet us halfway.”

Years later, just about every college takes home-schoolers seriously, and admissions offices everywhere report increasing numbers of applications from them. In 2000, 52 percent of colleges had written policies, like Stanford’s, to evaluate home-schooled candidates, according to a study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. By 2004, 85 percent did.

Most of those policies, specified on application forms, Web sites, and admissions brochures, are designed to get around the challenges of evaluating grades given by Mom and educational backgrounds as individual as the applicants. Many home-schooled students, like Ms. Dutill, follow accredited curricula furnished by a booming industry of home-school retailers. Other families design their own courses of study. Some students, who identify themselves as “unschoolers,” direct their own learning, according to their individual interests. Translating years of independent study into something that resembles a high-school transcript can be tricky for the home-schooled applicant — and even more challenging for the admissions officer assessing it.

“In many cases their transcript is here, there, and everywhere,” says Paul M. Cramer, vice president for enrollment at Elizabethtown College, in Pennsylvania. That’s why the college “strongly encourages” all home-schooled applicants to go to the campus for interviews, he says.

One applicant’s schooling entailed traveling the country with his family in a motor home, Mr. Cramer recalls. A stop at a Frank Lloyd Wright house became a lesson in architectural history; a detour through Ernest Hemingway’s home, in Key West, Fla., prompted a discussion of American literature. “That kind of originality and enthusiasm about what they’re learning is fun to hear,” he says.

But sifting through homemade transcripts, extensive book lists, and portfolios can be unusually time-consuming for admissions officers. Eddie K. Tallent, director of admissions at George Mason University, recently received one application that contained a page of explanation for each class listed on the transcript. “That was a bit much,” he says.

Without traditional points of comparison, like class ranking and grade-point averages, colleges tend to fall back on standardized-test scores. Many require that home-schoolers take two or more SAT 2 subject tests in addition to an SAT or ACT.

As the number of home-schoolers applying to college continues to grow, admissions offices have attempted to streamline the process. The University of Richmond, for example, has one admissions officer assigned to read all applications from home-schoolers. This year the Common Application, a format used by more than 300 colleges, added a supplement for home-schoolers, which both pleases and unsettles some home-school advocates.

“We’re not fighting to even be considered anymore,” says Howard Richman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency, one of seven organizations in the state that provides accredited diplomas to home-schooled graduates. On the other hand, he says, such standardization may cost home-schoolers some of the individuality that has set them apart.

In From the Fringe

Indeed, as their numbers have swelled, the college-application process for home-schoolers increasingly mirrors that of their more conventional counterparts. A host of home-schooling guides offers advice on compiling transcripts and highlighting the advantages of home schooling in application essays. So, too, do independent consultants, who offer the same sort of college counseling that a traditional high-school guidance counselor would.

Wendy J. Bush, an independent counselor in Maryland and home-school advocate who advises about 90 home-schooled seniors per year, organizes college fairs and financial-aid workshops, furnishes students with transcripts and letters of recommendation, and even holds home-school graduation ceremonies.

The Home School Legal Defense Association publishes a ranking of colleges with “home-school-friendly” admissions policies. In online discussion groups like homeschool2college, parents swap stories about navigating the admissions process and bemoan the difficulty of representing a summer of barn building on a high-school transcript.

Many colleges that once treated home-schoolers with suspicion now reach out to them as desirable applicants.

“Home schooling often really allows students to develop a passion,” says Sabena Moretz, associate director of admissions at Richmond. “With a traditional high school, most of the time you don’t see a kid who’s gotten so excited with the history of Monticello or got themselves onto an archaeology dig.”

Recognizing that sense of passion is what led Virginia Commonwealth University to create two engineering scholarships this year for home-schoolers, says Russell Jamison, dean of the engineering school. “We were looking at the kind of engineer that we needed to produce for the 21st century,” he says, “where part of the skills are not technical, but how to collect information through guided inquiry.”

It occurred to him that home-schoolers’ inquisitive, self-directed learning style — an educational model that often gets lost in the highly structured “problem-set oriented” environment of traditional high schools, he says — was particularly well suited to engineering. The school holds an annual open house for home-schoolers to get them interested in both engineering and Virginia Commonwealth. (One thing Mr. Jamison has learned, he says, is that when you plan a home-schooling event, the whole family shows up. At this fall’s open house, he included robot-building activities for elementary-school-age siblings.)

Social Smarts

The last hurdle in the admissions process for home-schooled students is persuading colleges that they have the social smarts to get along with their traditionally educated peers.

“There is an assumption that kids who are home-schooled are strange, that their idea of having a good time is sitting in a tree,” says Mr. Reider, the college counselor.

In a 2004 study of college admissions officers’ attitudes toward home-schooled applicants, Paul Jones, a vice president and a professor of educational administration at Georgia College & State University, and Gene Gloeckner, an associate professor of education at Colorado State University at Fort Collins, found that while the majority of respondents believed that home-schoolers would perform academically as well as their peers, if not better, 35 percent expressed skepticism that home-schoolers had the social skills to cope with college.

But, argue advocates of the movement, home-schoolers are hardly the hermits they are sometimes made out to be. Home-school bands, theater groups, sports teams, even proms are common now. Home-schooled students often study together in co-ops led by parents or the students themselves.

For an increasing number of home-schoolers, community college is the entry point to a four-year institution.

Julie Boiko, a sophomore at Stanford who was home-schooled, began taking classes at her local community college at age 13 to supplement her math and science studies. “You can’t do chemistry in the kitchen,” she says.

A self-described “science geek,” Ms. Boiko says her classes at West Valley College, in California — including microbiology, anatomy, and calculus — gave her a head start on the immunology research she now conducts at Stanford. At first, she says, her mother had to keep reminding her to put her name on her midterms.

While the few experts who have tracked home-schoolers’ academic and social performance in college have found little difference between their transition and that of their peers, the perception lingers that home-schoolers start college at a social disadvantage.

That’s why Grant Mukai rarely tells classmates at Boston University that he was home-schooled from second grade through high school. “Normally I say I went to a private school,” says the sophomore, adding that in many ways, the co-op he sometimes attended at a church basement was like a very small, very private school. While most of his friends there went on to small, religious colleges, Mr. Mukai chose Boston for its urban setting and strong communications program. “It was a little weird at first,” he says of going to college, but in the end not that big a deal: “It’s not that hard to learn to sit in a classroom.”


From the issue dated October 12, 2007

http://chronicle.com, Section: Students, Volume 54, Issue 7, Page A1

A Week in the Life of a Homeschooler

I’ve got to confess how much I LOVE reading Cellista’s homeschool blog! Her weekly reports always illustrate the wholesome, balanced nature of home school life, including not just school work, books, and academic projects, but family time, boy scouts, even cozy, Olympics-watching pajama parties! To see a recent example, click here: http://cellista.wordpress.com/2010/02/13/weekly-report-20-2/

More Science Fun

For those of you who missed my posting about science, click HERE to learn my secrets for helping children learn to love science!

In that vein, I thought I’d share some pictures from our most recent expedition to our local science museum, where they hosted a lab that taught my children to design and build their own circuits that work like alarms:

Holiday Learning Fun

The idea that the holidays are a time to cease learning and take a vacation is detrimental to young minds. It teaches children to view learning as a chore from which one must escape in order to have fun. Instead, I teach my children that continued learning is not only good for the mind, but a fun time to be shared with friends and family! 🙂

In our home school, we continued to do schoolwork during the holidays (except Christmas Eve, Christmas day, or the weekend). However, my children were rewarded with a fun activity after they accomplished all ten subjects each day! Here are some of the things we did:

CRAFT DAY:

We went to the home of another homeschooling family and made glitter snowflakes and candy cane reindeer!

BAKING DAY:

On a different day, we invited our homeschool friends to come over for some healthy baking and treat-making!

First, the kids learned about whole grains and good health while they learned how to grind whole wheat flour. Then they baked their own miniature bread loaves with the fresh-ground flour:

Next, they got to make fun (though less healthy) chocolate mouse treats:

The end result: our children continued to learn during the holidays, but they worked with greater motivation, knowing that if their assignments were completed with excellence, they would enjoy a festive educational activity for the remainder of the afternoon.

Natural Learning Benefit #5: Mother Nature’s in Charge!

One of the benefits of natural learning is the abundance of time available for children to explore and enjoy the great outdoors, rather than spending their time confined inside a cinder-clock building. When our area was hit with a snow storm last week, my children were called to recess not by the clanging of a timed bell, but by Mother Nature herself!

Children Need Time to Create

Charlotte Mason (the renowned educator/founder of Ambleside teacher’s college in England) taught parents and educators that,

“The morning . . . is much the best time for lessons and every sort of mental work; if the whole afternoon cannot be spared for out-of-door recreation, that is the time for mechanical tasks such as [crafts], drawing, practising . . . ” —Home Education, p. 23

While in public school, my children did not have afternoon time to explore the outdoors or to be creative, because they spent their entire evening doing homework!

But in the more natural, organic setting of our home school, all EIGHT subjects are easily completed before lunchtime (because home schools move quickly, due to the lack of crowd control issues), and afterwards, my children are free to explore and create the things that interest them!

Here’s one example–my daughter Prima wants a pony. I told her “no way.” So what did she do? She began to construct one herself, out of old cardboard boxes:

See the pajamas? If I had let her, she would’ve stayed up ALL NIGHT working on this thing. Charlotte Mason was right–afternoon/evening is definitely the time to let children explore their creativity!

I couldn’t believe she was able to design and implement this entire project without any patterns or adult assistance. In school, every project had instructions and a list of requisite supplies. But Prima apparently prefers to create things freehand:

During Prima’s public school days, projects like this were unheard of–she was too busy trying to get all of her homework done before bed.

A few weeks ago, the kids saw me making a pie. This is something they didn’t get to see when they were in public school, because I prefer to bake at midday (while the baby naps). This time, they got to join me:

And while they rolled, cut, and baked, you can bet that I was teaching about the art of pie-making (and its historical roots in the American colonies) which put a tangible (and tasty!) spin on history that led to further discussions of early colonial life. I actually had to get out the history books to answer their questions!

Our discussion became so lively and educational that I found myself wishing I had started inviting the kids to help me out in the kitchen a lot earlier–little Buttercup actually showed more interest in history that day than I ever experienced at her age!

But the best result that day (aside from yummy pies!) was the passion for learning and the feeling of accomplishment that my children experienced that day–proving that education isn’t all about worksheets and standardized tests.

Learning MUST include the feeling of accomplishment that comes from creating something meaningful, while at the same time recognizing one’s place in history!

Benefit #2 of Natural Learning: Science Buffs

After reading about a recent government study of high school science issues (voicing concerns that teens do more goofing off in science labs than actually learning science), I thought I would share the things I learned about instilling a passionate love of science in my children!

Here’s a picture of my daughter, Dizzy, working on a physics experiment during a recent trip to a children’s science museum:

My children love science (my two oldest daughters often declare that they want to be scientists when they grow up) because we read about it in WHOLE BOOKS, not textbooks (which read like encyclopedias, instead of speaking directly to the child with an interesting tale of life and scientific phenomena to explore). It takes an engaging narrative to make science exciting for children, not the dry, fact-filled paragraphs that fill most science textbooks these days.

Here are my recommendations:

Five in a Row

This delightful teacher’s guide helps you extrapolate scientific lessons from high-quality children’s stories (most of which are classics or Caldecott medal winners). My children LOVE this program, and absorb every detail of science learned from these exciting stories–which include lessons in biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science.

The Story of Science

Joy Hakim’s science series is an exciting way to help students get interested in science. Rather than introducing dry facts, figures, statistics, and formulae, Hakim tells the stories of great scientists–their questions, quandaries, and dilemmas that led to discovery. Science is never boring with delightful reads like these!

(Please note: I highly recommend these books, but the author occasionally lets her atheistic/anti-Christian views slip through. But only rarely–I don’t think my children encounter anything in these books that they wouldn’t experience among friends and neighbors with different beliefs, so rather than denying them this excellent science resource, I just point out that this particular author “does not believe as we do,” but that she is an excellent scholar, nonetheless).

But books aren’t enough! You have to get out and experience science in order to love it!

Here’s my son, Screech, learning about pulleys and gravity:

In this picture, Prima and Buttercup are learning about buoyancy, velocity, and surface area:

Interestingly enough, the day these pictures were taken, my children pretty much had the science museum to themselves (because during the day, most other children are at public school). Halfway through our visit, however, a bus load of public school kids arrived on a field trip. How my heart ached for them as they crowded in and were rushed through each exhibit, forced to stand in line and march in accord to the chaperone’s kid-counting orders. I wished that I could take a few of the more troubled-looking kids home with me and give them the delightful experience of learning science without being herded about in large groups like cattle.

And those poor teachers–only two of them with about fifty kids. They looked so exhausted and stressed; they were much too busy counting heads and keeping the peace to actually interact with their students and teach any science. My heart went out to them, too.

Here’s a shot of Dizzy, testing different wing spans in a wind tunnel:

The Bottom Line: whether you teach your children at home or send them to public school, I heartily recommend these science reads and real-life encounters with science to help kids get excited about this particular subject.

P.S. For a fun read about a family’s experience dissecting owl pellets at home, read Cellista’s “Owl Puke” posting!