The attached paper highlights some surprising results regarding which type of school performs better.
I’ll let you read the paper to see the surprises.
The attached paper highlights some surprising results regarding which type of school performs better.
I’ll let you read the paper to see the surprises.
This post is for the many, many homeschool families who ask me about the middle school years and how best to prepare for high school when a competitive college admission is the ultimate goal.
I’ve met many parents of middle school students who feel stranded. They want to be prepared for the high school years that are skulking around the corner. They want to get this right, but they’re unsure. School administrators, grandparents, and well-meaning friends offer “do this, do that” sound bites. But, inertia and uncertainty prevail.
There are two distinct phases of home education, after the elementary years wind down: The Interrogatory Phase (middle school) and the Execution Phase (high school).
It is in the Interrogatory Phase that you learn what you will be doing in the Execution Phase. The Execution Phase is a terribly busy time and as the name implies, you are putting into action all of the plans you made in the late middle school years. If you wait until high school to ask the important questions, you will find yourself bogged down, confused, and feeling rather ineffective.
Regardless of what your long-term goals are, you should think of middle school as preparation for high school. Here are key components of middle school years:
Figure out your kid
What does my student love best and where does he/she excel? For example: Does she like to build things? Is he quick with his math? Does she read above grade level? Can he write better than most boys his age? Do topics in science, music, art, or history hold her attention more?
It might seem like a lot to know about your student but if you pay close attention to your days, the answers are there. Your goal is to get an academic lock on your student and know his strengths, weaknesses, and special interests. Pay attention to your student’s skill set and talents. These are the headwaters from which good things can flow.
For an objective “stock-taking”, you’ll need to test. I am not a big advocate of testing, especially in elementary school, but by middle school you really need to get a fix on how your student measures up against the general population. We are not very good scorekeepers for our own kids.
(There are many online resources for testing your student in the privacy of your home, if you prefer. A google search will reap a harvest of them.)
1. You can have your older middle school student take the PSAT or the SAT. Scores prior to 9th grade are purged – no one but you will ever see them. You don’t have to get upset with low scores here because you will adjust down for his/her age. For example, if your 7th grade student has an SAT math score of 500 – you should be very encouraged; that is quite good for that grade level.
2. There is also a test called the SSAT (not administered by the College Board). The SSAT is similar in shape to the SAT, is geared toward the middle school student, and it will give you a projected SAT score, depending on the age of your student when he takes this test. The SSAT is a personal favorite of mine.
What does this testing accomplish?
1. You will have a reality check.
2. You will know where you need to concentrate your efforts.
3. If your student has real strength in one area, it will be revealed and you may have a ticket to gifted learning programs.
4. Since all of these achievement exams are (at minimum) 3 hours long, your student will know ahead of time what it feels like to sit through this endurance test. Better your kid do this before it counts than do it for the first time when it really does count.
Is my student ready for high school? Is he ready to work hard? Does she know how to manage her time? Does he know why he needs to do all of this work? Are we on the same page?
Most students do not know what they want to do with their lives. But, they should still have goals. Without goals, how will you get them to study into the late hours of the night and on weekends when that time/need arrives. It is very hard to push a kid who does not have a shared vision of excellence and achievement. To instill this desire in your student, he must see the goal(s). You should do college tours. It might sound foolish to traipse across the campus of Columbia University with a middle school student – it is not. Pick a beautiful day, travel without time constraint on a day when classes are in session, jump in to an organized tour or just walk the campus and hang in the nearby eateries to get a sense of the intellectual energy and excitement that you will find everywhere. If you can get your student excited about attending ONE college, ANY college, then you are on the “go” square of the game board. You can build goals from there. Without this, you will find yourself parroting admonitions which will fall on deaf ears. A student needs a tangible goal, especially if no particular career goal is present. Invest in your student’s enthusiasm.
Does my middle school student even KNOW what hard work looks like?
This is critically important. Your daughter might view 20 math problems per week as punitive. Your son might think that a weekly 250 word essay is pure torture. Most middle school students need to calibrate what they think is hard work to what hard work actually is. They need good models. Middle school students who want to land in a competitive college need to meet other students with similar goals.. Your job is to find them. The homeschool community is filled with success stories. Find the families who have high-achieving kids. Ask them what they did. If your 12 year old son or daughter sits down with a 21 year old who has a proven academic track record and they hear it straight from the source, they will never forget it. It is golden.
To find peers, try to get your middle school student into one high-achieving program, whether online or through your local community.
From Ideas to Action Plans
During the Interrogatory Phase of the middle school years you should try out different things. This takes time but it is worth it. If math seems to come easy, find a math club. If your student loves science, do science fairs. If writing is at the top of the list, find contests and competitions to enter. Your goal is to get some traction. Once that happens you will see real progress. Advice for mom – get on numerous homeschool discussion loops and scour the digests from these groups nightly. This is how you learn about cool, local opportunities. You will have to make a regular investment of time to do this research. Here is a terrific website with lists and lists of competitions in science, art, history, math, computers and writing. A good place to start – http://cty.jhu.edu/imagine/resources/competitions/index.html
This list includes a good number of competitions for middle school students.
If a student is preparing to compete for something – anything – he will be more focused. Then you (mom) can reverse-engineer your school year around this event. Big events like these actually ADD structure to your year.
Plan, Plan, Plan Some More
Once you have gathered up activities, events and competitions, you are one easy step away from creating a calendar for the year with clear goals mapped out. Keep going with this. Do a hypothetical 4-year high school plan. Involve your middle school student in this. Of course, this plan is going to morph. But if you have no plan at all, you are bound to fall short of a high standard.
A desire to achieve and the determination to do hard things won’t come out of thin air. You need to nurture it. There are wonderful educational events run by Learning Unlimited throughout the year. Middle school students can take exciting classes on the campuses of some of the best universities in the country for as little as $30 for a full weekend of amazing courses. No grades are given. University students volunteer to teach. Often a middle school student discovers an entire field of science or language they did not even know existed. Inspiration is everywhere. Do this! Do it as often as you can.
http://www.learningu.org/current-programs Get on the mailing list. Have it on your calendar. The MIT and Yale programs are especially good.
Many years ago a homeschool family asked to meet with me. Mom and dad could not get their kids to read books. They wanted advice. Most home educating families know that in order to be poised for the academic world kids need to read – a lot. They need to read hard stuff and they need to read often. These parents were worried. Their kids did not have dyslexia or ADHD. They were neurotypical kids. “Why can’t we get them to read?” they lamented. I asked them what they (mom and dad) were currently reading, looking high and low for a sign of books. “We don’t read, we don’t have time for it.” Hmm.
The prescription is simple. Kids will read more if you have a set reading time and lead by example. Kids will also read in the absence of other forms of entertainment and if most table top surfaces hold a small stack of interesting books.
If your middle school kids are glued to glowing rectangles, have technology free hours built into the day and have good books ready to fill the gap. It is harder now than it ever was before to encourage kids to read books. The glowing screens hold far more appeal. We cannot extricate ourselves from these devices entirely but we can claim back a few hours a day – this is a reasonable goal. Lead the way on this.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The middle school years are a period of intense mentorship. It is during these years that you can establish that you and your student are on the same team. The road to excellence is arduous, but it is made easier when the prize is clear, the goals are reasonable, and your leadership is obvious. You got this ! Godspeed !
by Rosemary Ward Laberee
What is your daily routine? Is it easier or harder than going to a public/private school?
Here’s a parent’s response for our 11 year-old daughter. We’ve been homeschooling her now for almost two school years.
For a while, we let her set her own sleep schedule. She stayed up late (usually midnight), and woke up between 10:00–11:00. Lately, we have been requiring her to wake up at 9:00, since she has several activities that start at 10:00. Bedtime is still a struggle.
So, is homeschooling really easier?
I don’t think that is the correct question. Any learning activity can be easy or hard, depending upon the effort. However, with homeschooling, we have the option to choose not only the content, but also the manner it is taught and learned. This makes it more likely that the student will be engaged. In our daughter’s case, she has substantial input into these decisions. Therefore, homeschooling is more interesting, challenging, and engaging.
Certainly, the schedule fits our family life better. I think most homeschool families will agree with this one. It also gives us more flexibility to travel throughout the year.
I believe the most important aspect of homeschooling (concerning learning), is that it minimizes the trivialities, and frees up much more time for personal pursuits and leisure. Our daughter spends ours each day drawing and animating. She is part of a community of artists (online) that collaborate and share their ideas and work. She routinely mentors others (teens and adults). I don’t think she could pursue this passion to the same extent as a traditional student.
Is homeschooling easier? Not really.
Is homeschooling better? Yes.
My daughters on the verge of 2 years old and I have another one on the way. I’m wary about sending them to public school, because I personally didn’t learn a lot (a bit too easy) and it didn’t really help socially. While I know there are pros and cons to both, what are your point of views?
Wow … you are way ahead of the game!
First of all … relax. You have plenty of time to figure things out and, who knows, the playing field may change significantly by school time.
Until that day comes, you have quite a bit of homework to do.
Your first assignment: What are your goals for your children? What do you want them to achieve as a result of their education?
Second assignment: What are the strengths and weaknesses of each child? How do they interact with others? Are they social, or not? Gifted? Any learning difficulties, etc?
Third assignment (and this question is just a start): What are the strengths and weaknesses of different educational choices, and how well do they fit each of your children?
The good thing is that you have several years to complete your assignments, before you make any decisions.
Now it’s time for me to answer your question.
But first, a digression.
There’s a body of research that suggests we should not begin to formally educate our children until they are older. Some studies indicate that it can actually provide negative performance outcomes. The consensus seems to be about age seven. Several European countries, including Sweden and Poland, do not require schooling until age seven.
Other researchers believe that it is far more important (and natural) to encourage our children to play during their formative years. Dr. Peter Gray has a lot to say about this, but we’ll talk some more about him later.
So, don’t be in a big rush to start your kids on the education hamster wheel. Anyway, back to our story.
Deciding on a specific curriculum greatly depends on the answers to the above assignments. In fact, it is entirely possible that each of your children will require a completely different approach.
Your question asks us to compare online versus traditional schooling. There are two major considerations for this comparison. The first is the adequacy of the curriculum, and that mostly depends on the classes that are chosen (both online and traditional). I have read no research that indicates online teaching is better than traditional. Ultimately, your children need to do the work to understand the concepts, and to demonstrate mastery. Whichever method is chosen will require someone to ensure they are “getting” the material. My view, from a curricular perspective, is that this is a toss-up. Either option could provide a really good, or really bad, education.
The second major consideration is the learning style and, in my view, this incorporates the degree of social activities and interaction required. Online learning tends to be more isolated. A classroom environment is more likely to foster group interaction. However, once again, each situation is different, so you have to be careful. My view on this one is mixed. Some kids thrive in a social environment, while others prefer to work in isolation. (It happens that our daughter prefers relative isolation – a large classroom is a bad environment for her. We also have friends whose homeschooled children have chosen to return to traditional school).
Therefore, your answer is … it depends.
But that’s just the beginning. You forgot to ask some other important questions.
For example … what other learning opportunities exist, other than online or traditional education?
And it turns out, there are lots of choices available. Here’s an excerpt from one of my other answers:
Unschooling. The interests of the child guide the focus of the learning.
Democratic schools (such as the Sudbury school system). The interests of the students guide the curriculum, but this occurs in a community environment.
Homeschooling, with the parents (or family members) as the teacher.
Homeschooling, with instruction guided by tutors.
This also has its own spectrum, which ranges from selection of individual courses, to a complete curriculum. Online classes are available from grade school to graduate level.
Co-op classes – where homeschool families share responsibility for teaching.
Umbrella schools. These can also occupy a spectrum, but are generally a hybrid which may offer classes (or not). However, the idea of an umbrella school is to provide for administrative support (such as grades, or transcripts).
Dual enrollment. Homeschool students generally have the option of attending community college classes (if they meet minimum qualifications).
Charter schools. While some of these schools are essentially just regular schools run by businesses using taxpayer funds, others can be formed by parent groups. The specific rules for formation and administration of charter schools are determined by each state.
Private (and religious) schools. Privately funded schools.
Magnet schools. These are generally operated by the local school district, but with an emphasis on certain academic areas.
The beauty of homeschooling is that you don’t have to be restricted to one choice … there’s a whole smorgasbord available.
There is one other very important consideration. Some children have special needs, or have specific learning disabilities. While it may be possible, or even desirable, to homeschool, it is also quite possible that a traditional school has better resources available. Once again, carefully consider the alternatives. Traditional school may be the better choice.
Oops! I said I would mention more about Dr. Peter Gray, so here it is.
Peter Gray is a leading advocate and researcher who writes about unschooling. I find myself drawn to the philosophy of unschooling. I always seek to engage my daughter in choices about what, and how, she should learn. I recommend studying the principles, as it may help you clarify the educational goals you seek for your children.
Is it not feasible to learn what one wants to learn by reading, understanding, and practicing from relevant textbooks/journals/YouTube/Khan Academy/Wikipedia/Google?
Okay … first, a “pre-script”. When I searched for an appropriate image for a “teacher”, the vast majority showed a person (usually female) standing at a blackboard in front of a class. Hmm … that says a lot about our education system. Several stereotypes, particularly of the “broadcast mode” of teaching. Anyway, I digress, so back to the real discussion of teachers.
Hang on a sec … I’m a little confused by this one.
Let me think about this. I am homeschooling my daughter, and she uses a variety of learning methods, including every single one you mention in your question:
The issue a student has to deal with, is how to manage all the available information and learning sources above. And that is where teachers/tutors/mentors are vitally important. Ideally, a “teacher” knows the student’s personality, learning style, capabilities and interests. The “teacher” can therefore help guide the student toward an effective application of study. Furthermore, the “teacher” can help the student evaluate the information critically (there’s a lot of bad information out there), evaluate the student’s understanding, and provide feedback.
And this is where our traditional style of education tends to break down. Too many classrooms are stuck in the “broadcast” mode, where the teacher spends a lot of time lecturing. (Of course, there are also many examples of alternate classroom styles, so I am generalizing).
Ideally, our student and teacher should work together to identify areas of interest, and competencies to be developed. The teacher should guide the student to appropriate resources (including many of those discussed above). There may be occasions where the teacher determines that group projects are the appropriate way to learn. In this way, education can become more personal, and individualized.
Of course, my daughter and I can already take advantage of these options, as she is homeschooled. Wouldn’t it be great if our educational system changes course, and sets sail for individualized learning? We have the capability now.
Say for example a group of 50 parents decided to pool their resources, with parents teaching subjects that they know best, pooling their money and renting a building.
Is this legal in most states? How large could this homeschool group grow?
Think of schooling as a spectrum of choices. The result will therefore look something like this:
Parents should think carefully about which option is best suited for their children. As some of the other responses have noted, the choice to homeschool can be VERY dangerous if not done properly.
In my family’s case, we take advantage of several different options noted above. The overall philosophy is unschooling. I have found that engagement and motivation are highest when our daughter has expressed interest in particular subject areas.
The method of instruction varies. I prefer tutoring, as research shows that it is a very effective way of learning. However, I also know that project-based learning is very important (again, supported by research). Therefore, our daughter also participates in several classes (usually online).
Lastly, I believe that mathematics and English are essential ingredients for a basic education, so I ensure that they are a continuing part of the curriculum.
Also (and this may be viewed as heretical in the homeschooling community), I believe that standardized testing has an important role to play in education. I therefore have my daughter participate in annual standardized tests at our local school. This allows me to demonstrate that she is learning the minimum requirements compared to her peers; it will also demonstrate appropriate grade-level placement, if we decide she should return to the traditional school environment (which we don’t plan on doing, but you never know); and it will prepare her for similar testing in the future (e.g. SAT), which may be useful if she decides to pursue college (which is very likely).
So, with the exception of traditional schools (which receive their mandate from federal, state, and local school authorities), I believe it is possible for parents to get together and organize learning (or schools) at virtually all other levels.