Monday, March 9, 2009

Homeschool-to-college brag
and college entry myths debunked

My oldest child, Margaret, received word last week that she has been accepted into the University of Illinois electrical engineering program, which is one of the top engineering schools in the country. She'll be transferring directly into her junior year since she already completed her associate's degree at a junior college.

Of course, I'm proud of her because she's my daughter, and I did have a bit to do with her education. However, the news could not have come at a better time, since I was speaking at the InHome Conference this past weekend. Three of my four sessions focused on college, and there were an absurd number of questions about the negative stigma of attending a community college. I've done talks on this before, and there might be a question or two about that, but they're kind of vague and weak. This weekend's questions were off the charts in specificity and negativity. One woman asked, "I've heard that you are less likely to get into a university if you have an associate's degree, and that you should stop at like 59 credits so you don't get that associates." Okay, that's just wrong. You are actually more likely to get accepted if you have completed an associate's degree -- unless you have a 2.3 GPA or something that makes you look like a less-than-serious student. It is absurd to imply that a community college degree is the kiss of death.

Five years ago, as a 16-year-old with an associate's degree, Margaret was accepted at Illinois College, Simpson College, University of St. Frances, Bradley University, and Northern Illinois University. She ultimately decided not to go at that time because she wasn't sure that she really wanted to get a degree in English. And since she was only 16, I suggested that she take a few more classes at the community college to see if she was more passionate about another subject. She found that passion in her physics classes and realized that most of her classmates were planning to go on to universities and major in engineering. She began exploring engineering careers and realized she'd found an exciting career path.

My daughter's physics professor told her that students with at least a 3.5 have a pretty good chance of getting into U of I's engineering program. I know from my experience at ISU that students with at least a 3.0 have a good chance of getting into ISU's communication program, which is fairly competitive, since they only accept about 50% of the applicants. It varies from school to school and from one program to another within a college, but generally anyone with at least a 3.0 from a junior college should be able to get into a university somewhere. Although U of I might not accept someone into their engineering program with a 3.2, there are other universities with engineering programs where that GPA would be competitive. And it is entirely possible that a student who is not accepted as a freshman would be accepted later as a transfer when he or she has proven his or her ability to do college-level work at a community college.

It's no surprise that many parents this past weekend seemed afraid of making some terrible mistake that would doom their child for life. That's part of the parental job description, and I used to have that same fear. However, sending your child to a community college would rarely turn out to be a mistake. (I never say never.) Every child is an individual, and parents should help their child choose a college based upon many things, so many that I can't address them all in this post. In fact, that's a post for another day entirely. For today, I'm proud that Margaret will be going to U of I to get an engineering degree since it is one of the top schools in the country (some say the top), but I'm thrilled that she finally found something that she's passionate about!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Individualized instruction

Seems like I say this a lot, but it is true that as homeschoolers we can do all the things that professional educators know are best practices. A few months ago, I mentioned the science teacher who likes to take his kids out into the woods to experience nature for 20 minutes! As homeschoolers, we can do that for hours -- and we can do it every day if we want. One of the other big strengths of homeschooling is that we are able to provide individualized instruction for our children. This is something that the pros know they need to do, and they are continually trying to figure out how to deliver individual instruction to 20 or 30 kids in a classroom.

Jim Bower, a neurobiologist at the University of Texas and the CEO of the virtual world Whyville, recently explained at an educator's conference:

We tend to learn best through hands-on experiences, he explained--by trying things ourselves and taking ownership of our own learning, rather than passively receiving information from another source. But until the internet came along, we haven't had a scalable way to deliver this kind of experience to every student.

Before the internet, Bower said, the two most important developments from an educational perspective were the invention of the printing press and the creation of a university system. But both of these developments were "push" operations, he said--meaning they pushed information out to students, rather than letting students experience learning for themselves.

I agree with Bower, but after spending time teaching in three different public high schools over the past few months, I can tell you that most schools are not even close to giving kids the kind of education that is necessary and possible in the World Wide Web. Almost zero students have heard of a blog, Twitter, Squidoo, or any other Web 2.0 tools and programs. This semester I surveyed my high school seniors and learned that most of them spend very little time online, and almost 100% of that time is spent on either Facebook or MySpace.

Most schools have a single computer lab, but little time is spent in there. This is where homeschooling parents can easily give their children a better education than the public schools can. If you're reading this blog, you are already more Internet literate than a lot of public school teachers. So, don't be shy about searching the net and looking for learning opportunities for your children, and let your children look for information on subjects that interest them. If you're new to this blog, read some of the older posts about how blogging can improve kids' writing or how you can learn critical thinking skills through the Internet.

As I said, I totally agree with Bower's ideas that the Internet can be used to deliver individualized content to students, but it will not happen if kids are getting half an hour per week on a computer. Sadly, most districts don't have enough money to allow students more time online. And Bower even admits in the article, "'We haven't figured out how to leverage Web 2.0 yet' in schools." Well, while the school districts are still trying to figure that out, homeschooling parents can continue delivering the best possible education to their children.