Kids Taught at Home Make the Grade
Sent: Wednesday, August 30, 2000 6:54 AM
Kids Taught at Home Make the Grade
|By Adrienne Mand|
Peter Kowalke attended his first class and took the first test of his life as a freshman in college. And Kowalke, an aspiring journalist and quantum physicist, claims he couldn't have been better prepared.
Like a growing number of American youngsters, Kowalke was taught at home by his parents instead of attending school. As more of these children reach college age, there is mounting evidence that the controversial alternative education is a viable choice.
For the third consecutive year, ACT college admissions test scores are higher for homeschoolers than for other students. Homeschoolers' average composite score was 22.8, compared to the national average of 21, out of a possible 36. On the SAT, homeschoolers, who comprise less than 1 percent of test takers, earned 568 verbal and 532 in math. The national average, announced Monday, was 505 verbal and 514 math.
The U.S. Department of Education estimates there are between 1 million and 1.2 million homeschoolers in America.
Some families that choose to educate their kids at home say they are seeking greater academic freedom, while others say they want religious training not provided in schools. Their ranks continue to grow, according to the National Homeschool Association, though the growth rate has declined in recent years.
It is unclear exactly how many of these students are filling lecture hall seats at the nation's colleges and universities. Jacqueline King, director of federal policy analysis for the American Council on Education, said most schools receive just one or two homeschooled applicants a year.
The tricky part for admissions officials, King said, is gauging the worthiness of an applicant whose education usually does not include letter grades or a familiar curriculum.
"With homeschooled kids, it's very hard to evaluate that transcript," she said. "It's been something that colleges have been concerned about, but it hasn't been big enough numbers that it's been a real big problem or issue."
Critics say kids taught at home miss out on an important part of growing up, and that keeping them out of school makes them less able to get along in many social situations.
But in addition to the new test scores, others contend the students adjust fine and are often better equipped to attend institutes of higher learning.
"Many homeschoolers have chosen the college route and have done very, very well with it," said Mark Hegener, publisher of Home Education Magazine. He noted that admissions counselors often report that these kids need fewer remedial classes than other students.
For Ariel Simmons, a 21-year-old from Annetta, Texas, who is starting her senior year at Hampshire College, homeschooling became her family's choice when she was "bored silly" in her second grade class at a private school. Her parents subscribed to the "unschooling" theory, where children follow their own interests rather than predetermined studies.
Soon Simmons was immersed in her favorite topics, such as Greek mythology. In her teens, she did "hands-on, experiential stuff," including interning at local museums and at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her SAT scores were a 610 in math and 790 verbal.
Simmons chose Hampshire College for its similar, interest-driven philosophy. But like any freshman, she faced some adjustments.
"When I first got to school, I felt very threatened, I guess, by having papers due fast and furious," she said. "But I think I eventually found out that I could write them competently."
Similarly, 21-year-old Kowalke of Painesville, Ohio, had to learn how to take tests and to focus on different, unrelated subjects. He left Hampshire College, deciding he'd rather pursue magazine journalism than quantum physics, and is currently attending Lakeland Community College with hopes of entering Ohio University in a year.
Another adjustment, he said, was learning how to manage a social life. While he always had friends from activities like football, he saw them periodically. Constantly surrounded by his peers during his first semester at college, Kowalke found he had many acquaintances but few close relationships. By second semester, he focused on forming lasting friendships rather than meeting everyone.
Overall, he said, college "is something that homeschoolers can easily fit into. I think there were just certain things I had not encountered yet, but even those weren't any great shock to the system."
Teachers have found that homeschoolers do just as well in their classes as other students, and often are more open to new ideas, said Becky Wai-Ling Packard, an assistant professor of educational psychology at Mount Holyoke who taught Simmons.
"I don't think homeschooled kids are at a necessary advantage or disadvantage," she said. "I was curious how she'd react to her first grade, but she approached it with an open mind."
Another homeschooled student gave the college experience an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
"I had an incredibly smooth transition into college," said Molly Pestinger, 22, a horse trainer who graduated last spring from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.
And homeschooling itself earned an A in her book.
"It was wonderful. I wish that I didn't have to go to school at all," said Pestinger, who began learning at home during high school. "I think that I would have been a more well-adjusted human being. Homeschooling freed me."
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