homeschooling high school

Wayne Walker here with the lead article that I wrote for the Sept., 2005, issue of my free e-mail homeschooling newsletter (scheduled to be put to rest in July of 2006).  The theme is homeschooling through high school.  After the lead article, there are some articles by others on the same subject of homeschooling high school, followed by still other articles on different topics related to homeschooling.


by Wayne S. Walker
     One of the questions that was often asked of those early homeschoolers, who many times had taken their elementary-aged children out of public schools for various reasons back in the 1970's and 80's, was, “What are you going to do about high school?”  The thinking behind this question was undoubtedly that it would be fairly simple for parents to teach their younger students the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but without college degrees in education and teaching certificates, parents could not possibly provide what their children needed in upper sciences and higher mathematics.  Some parents resolved that they would teach their children at home during their elementary and junior high years, hoping to lay a good foundation for them both academically and spiritually at that time, and then allow them go to public or private high school.  However, others determined to seek out–or make for themselves if necessary–whatever resources were necessary to continue homeschooling through high school.
     At least one generation that has been homeschooled all the way through, has gone on to college, and is now out in the work force has proven that parents can provide what their children need during their high school years to help make them successful.  Also, as more and more homeschooling parents have determined to take this route, resources galore have been made available to assist them.  Looking through some homeschooling catalogues, I found several books that are designed to give specific information about homeschooling during the high school years, such as Teenagers' Guide to School Outside the Box, The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life by Grace Llewellyn, Homeschooling the Teen Years by Cafi Cohen, Homeschooling the High Schooler and High School Your Way by McAlister and Oneschak, Home-Designed High School by Diana Johnson, Senior High: A Home Designed Form by Barb Shelton, Homeschooling High School by Jeanne Gowen Dennis, Home School: High School and Beyond: A Guide for Teens and Their Parents by Beverly Adams-Gordon,  The High School Handbook by Mary Schofield, The Homeschooler's High School Journal by Fergnus Services, Homeschooling All the Say Through High School by Renee Mason, The Homeschooler's Guide to Portfolios and Transcripts by Loretta Heuer, and Hot House Transplants by Matt Duffy.
     There are probably others too.  Also, most general books on homeschooling, such as those by Debra Bell, Christine Field, Michael and Mary Leppert, and others, will undoubtedly have material on homeschooling high school.  I do not have any of the books listed so far, but I did purchase Volume 3, “Junior High to College,” of Mary Pride's The Big Book of Home Learning, and Volume 2, “Junior-Senior High,” of Cathy Duffy's Christian Home Educators' Curriculum Manual.   Furthermore, with a son aged 14 going into high school this year, over the past couple of years I have attended several seminars in the St. Louis area on homeschooling the high school years given by our local support group (SHARE), the Starlight Curriculum Fair, St. Louis Homeschool Network, Network Of Alternative Homeschoolers, and Christian Home Educators Fellowship (CHEF) of Missouri.  I certainly do not claim to be an “expert” on the subject, and cannot even speak from experience, but it is my desire to use this issue of the newsletter to share what I have found in my research in the hopes of providing information that will be of encouragement to others.
     By curriculum here I mean course of study–what subjects to pursue.  There are at least two factors that will help to determine this.  First, is your student planning to attend college or not?  If not, you will want to pursue a course of study that is best suited to the student's needs and interests as they relate to what he plans to do with his life.  If the student is planning to attend college, then a college-preparatory course of study will be needed, bringing us to the second factor, which concerns college requirements.  Each college or university has its own high school graduation requirements, so you might want to check out the different schools that your high schooler might like to attend to see what their entrance requirements are and try to work that into your plans.  Even here, of course, there will be some room for trying to tailor the curriculum to meet the needs and interests of the student, especially in the area of electives.
     A fairly standard set of requirements that many colleges require and thus many public and private high schools strive to provide is as follows: four units of English (including substantial study of grammar, composition, and literature); at least two units on social sciences (courses such as geography, world history, American history, American government); at least three units in mathematics (algebra 1, algebra 2, geometry, trigonometry, or calculus); two units in college preparatory sciences (biology, chemistry, or physics, all with laboratory components); and various electives involving foreign language (for many colleges this is a requirement), fine arts (art, music), physical education (sports), community service, etc.  I have been told that one can become very creative at using life and work experiences to satisfy the various requirements and electives.
     Personally, I think that some courses involving worldview and related subjects are also important for young Christians, especially those preparing for college.  Subjects such as logic and critical thinking, introduction to philosophy, creation science vs. evolution, “health” (including sex education), speech/elocution and debate (how to defend the faith), basic economics, etc.,  would be suitable for this.  Many of these concepts might be worked into other courses (literature, history, science, etc.), but some of them can stand well as independent electives.  I will explain a little more about what I mean here in the next section of this article when I deal with resources.
     How much work should a student pursue?  In her Christian Home Educators' Curriculum Manual: Junior/Senior High (1995 Edition), Cathy Duffy has a section entitled “Too Much?” (p. 60) where she says, “The problem many of us recognize is that we often are trying to provide too much….We (and our children) have to make some choices and recognize what is most important.  We must then make conscious decisions about how we allocate our educational energies.  I cannot decide for you which things are of highest priority.  That will depend upon your personal beliefs and your child's interests and aptitudes.”  This is probably a very important principle to keep in mind.
     In contrast to the 1980's, resources for parents to homeschool their high school aged children abound today.  Some people prefer to follow a complete curriculum.  For such people, there are A Beka, Bob Jones, Alpha Omega, Accelerated Christian Education/School of Tomorrow, Christian Light, which are all fairly traditional textbook/workbook oriented curricula; Sonlight, Robinson Curriculum, Veritas Press, Covenant Home Curriculum, Foundation for Christian Education's Noah Plan (principle approach), and Dave Quine's Cornerstone Curriculum which are more classical and/or literature oriented.   A Beka and Bob Jones both have video and/or satellite classes in which the student can enroll, study the textbooks, and watch the material being taught as if in a classroom but do it all at home.
     In addition, there are all kinds of correspondence and newer on-line schools through which one can homeschool in a fairly traditional manner using either textbooks or the computer.  The Calvert School and Home Study International (Seventh-Day Adventist) have been around for some time.  Bill Bennett's K-12 Curriculum is a newer kid on the block that is more electronically oriented (and reportedly rather expensive if used independently rather than through a public “charter school”).  Also, there are many services which will develop and provide a curriculum (for a fee, of course, but often quite a bit less than a private school).  The Sycamore Academy and Christian Liberty Academy have been doing this for a long time, as have the Hewitt Foundation and the Moore Foundation.  There are a host of others too–just look at the ads in any homeschool magazine.
     For those of us who are fairly traditional but somewhat eclectic in our approach, all kinds of resources for the homeschooled high schooler exist.  The Well Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer and Teaching the Trivium by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn are both oriented toward a “classical” education, but even if one does not strictly follow a “trivium” approach, these two books contain a wealth of information and suggested materials to use.  The trick here is not to get overwhelmed.  One must determine ahead of time what he generally thinks is the direction in which he wants his children to go, and then as he peruses various books and catalogues looking for items, he can jot down those that look useful and cull those that do not seem to fit in with the program.  While we want to challenge our children to achieve excellence, we can also be guilty of overburdening them with too much.
     It has been suggested to me that in the basic core subjects, studies (and I cannot verify this, but it is what I have been told) show that homeschooled high schoolers who did the best on standardized tests used Apologia science, Saxon math, Bob Jones heritage studies, and Rod and Staff grammar (Rod and Staff goes through only the tenth grade, but those who know say that the seventh through tenth grade grammar books of Rod and Staff are actually more intensive than what most eleventh and twelfth graders get in public schools).  These alone would not form a complete curriculum, but they seem like a good place to start.  At least, that is what we plan to consider.
     However, there are loads of other materials that can be used to supplement, or in some cases perhaps replace, these suggested core items.  In science, we did not begin with Apologia in seventh grade, so Mark has already used General Science for eighth grade, and we will probably follow with Physical Science in ninth grade, Biology in tenth grade, and Chemistry in eleventh grade.  Whether he will study Physics in twelfth grade or not will probably be up to him.  I might add that Durrell Dobbins of Beginnings Publishing House is also working on a homeschool science curriculum for high school.
     Some people love Saxon math, others hate it.  Mark has already completed Saxon 8/7 and Algebra 1/2.  Since math is one of his more difficult subjects, we have decided not to push it, so he will be studying Algebra 1 for ninth grade.  Using this “slightly slower sequence,” he should study Algebra 2 in tenth grade, Advanced Mathematics in eleventh grade, and Calculus in twelfth grade if he chooses it as an elective.  One problem with Saxon is that it offers no separate geometry course.  This may not be a big problem, since the geometry is scattered throughout the other high school books, but The Well Trained Mind notes, “The student will not have completed a full geometry course until he finishes Advanced Mathematics….Students who want to do well on the PSATs (which also serve as the National Merit Scholarship qualifying test), taken in the fall of the eleventh-grade year, should have completed Advanced Mathematics before taking the test.”  To eliminate this problem, Teaching the Trivium suggests, “Although we used the Saxon Math textbook series, we substituted Harold Jacobs' Geometry at age fifteen, and skipped the Geometry sections in Advanced Math at age sixteen.”
     Bob Jones Heritage Studies for high school are fairly standard: Geography in ninth grade, World History in tenth grade, United States History in eleventh grade, and American Government and Economics in twelfth grade.  However, there are some other resources that strike me as being particularly good, perhaps as supplemental materials.  Runkle's Geography has been recommended as being equivalent to geography what Saxon is to math.  Apologia Educational Ministries suggests Around the World in 180 Days.  And Hands on Geography with the Ultimate Geography and Time Line from Geography Matters looks very appealing.  For World History, Christian Liberty Academy's Streams of Civilization is often cited as an excellent resource.  For American History, Peter Marshall's books, The Light and the Glory, From Sea to Shining Sea, and Sounding Forth the Trumpet, while one might not agree with everything in them, certainly present a perspective on our nation's past that is sorely lacking in so many modern works.  And if one is planning to include a study of economics, I have been told that the simplest approach is that of the “Uncle Eric” books by Richard Maybury and the companion study guide Economics–A Bluestocking Guide by Jane Williams.  If one uses the Bob Jones books as the core “social studies” curriculum, then any areas where the student is especially interested might be further explored with some of these resources.
     Since the Rod and Staff Grammar are for only two years (you might either use them in ninth and tenth grades, or use them for eleventh and twelfth grades), it would probably be good to have some other grammar for the years when Rod and Staff are not used, unless you begin with seventh grade for freshman grammar.  Both Winston Grammar and Easy Grammar Plus have upper courses for grades 7-12.  Jensen's Grammar has also been recommended by several, and there are other possibilities, such as using style handbooks.  However, English involves more than just studying grammar.  There is literature.  Most high school literature courses are surveys with books on general, world, American, and English literature that are made up mostly of excerpts.  There is, of course, benefit in a broad survey.  Learning Language Arts through Literature has the Gray Book for grades 7-9 and the Gold Books for high school levels (you still have to buy the book packages too).  Some grammar review and writing are included.  However, some people prefer to accomplish the same basic plan by just reading full novels and using study guides from Progeny Press and/or Total Language Plus.  These also have a lot of grammar and writing in them.  If one wants additional composition work, there are many programs to choose from, such as the late Dave Marks's Writing Strands and Andrew Pudewa's Teaching Writing, Structure, and Style.
     Having looked at resources for core curriculum, now we move on to electives.  Foreign language is probably the most popular elective, and resources abound.  There are Rosetta Stone, Power Glide, The Learnables, and others.  Several programs are available especially for homeschoolers who wish to include Latin (Latina Christiana, Prima Latina, Memoria Press, Lingua Angelica, Canon Press, Henle Latin, Ars Latinae, and Latin's Not So Tough) and Greek (Hey, Andrew, Teach Me Some Greek, and Trivium Pursuit).  For a general survey of art history, Bob Jones's Our Christian Heritage in Art has been especially recommended.  Not as many good resources exist for music history and appreciation, but using Jane Smith and Betty Carleson's The Gift of Music and/or Patrick Kavanaugh's Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers would make a good survey course.  Need physical education?  Play homeschool volleyball, baseball, or basketball; ride bicycles; run; join with other homeschoolers to have track and field meets.
     I also mentioned some of those electives pertaining to worldview.  Critical Thinking Press has some excellent books that will help to develop thinking skills.  Logic is an important subject.  In addition to Canon Press's Introductory and Intermediate Logic,and Memoria Press's Traditional Logic, many homeschoolers rave about Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn's The Fallacy Detective from Trivium Pursuit; they have now published a sequel.  Introductory philosophy from a Biblical worldview might include a study of Francis Schaffer's How Then Should We Live? or David Noebel's Understanding the Times or perhaps both.  While Apologia Science does a good job at portraying the creation versus evolution controversy, resources abound from Apologetics Press, Answers in Genesis, Creation Research Institute, etc., to find supplemental materials on this subject.  Hewitt Foundation uses Total Health: Choices for a Winning Lifestyle by Susan Boe; several people have recommended “The New Learning About Sex” series from Concordia Publishing House as part of a health education or family living  program.  If one is so inclined, Josh Harris's books, such as I Kissed Dating Goodby, would fit in here too.  Homeschool catalogues and homeschooling high school books list several resources for developing and giving a speech, and Vance Trevethen has written a debate handbook for homeschoolers, Strategic Debate.  And I have probably only scratched the surface of possible resources.
     So far, what has been suggested is a fairly traditional, textbook, reading, and writing oriented curriculum at home.  There are other possibilities, like co-op classes and others rather untraditional.  Especially for subjects where the parents might feel that they are not able to guide the students sufficiently in their studies, places like Standard Deviants, The Teaching Company, and others have courses available on audio cassettes, video tapes, and CD rom.  And all kinds of distance learning programs are available over the internet or by correspondence.  Another option is “dual enrollment.”  One form of this is where a students homeschool for most courses but enroll in a public school for certain other courses.  Since our aim is to stay as far away from the public schools as possible, we would avoid this like the plague.  But another form is where high school students, especially juniors and seniors, take a course or two at a local community college and receive both high school and college credit for it.  Many homeschooling families like this because it not only provides opportunities for students to study difficult subjects but also gives them a head start on college.  And I have not even touched the hem of the garment with CLEP and Advanced Placement courses.
Grades and Transcripts
     Many homeschooling parents prefer to teach their children without giving grades.  When we first began, we enrolled in the McGuffey Academy as a sort of umbrella organization.  We graded all the tests that came with the curriculum, sent the scores to the Academy, and received a “report card.”  After the third year, we no longer joined the Academy, primarily for financial reasons.   I made out report cards for the next couple of years, but it gets old after a while keeping track of all the tests, quizzes, and other assignments, grading them, and recording the grades.  Furthermore, as many homeschooling parents have noted, the goal in homeschooling is not to “get the grade” but to learn the material, so, in the end the student always gets a “A” because he keeps working at it until he gets it right.
     This works well in the elementary school years, but if we want our high school students to attend college, some kind of grading system should be implemented.  Most colleges do not care all that much about diplomas (some do), but they do want to see some kind of transcript.  In my research for a previous edition of this newsletter on homeschoolers and colleges, I found that some colleges are very particular about what kind of transcript they receive, while others recognize that homeschoolers do not receive a traditional public school education and are more flexible about what they require.  But they want something that shows the work that the student has done and how well he has done it.
     Objective grades are determined primarily through testing (some people like to do testing, others do not), but there is more to education than just taking tests.  Subjective grading is determined by evaluating the student's overall performance.  However, even when testing is done, all grading is somewhat subjective, even in public schools, but perhaps more so, at least by appearance, in homeschools.  I have been told that some colleges look at homeschool transcripts with a grain of salt, thinking that parents could put down just about anything.  Cathy Duffy notes, “When we assign grades, we have to be honest. If we give a child an 'A' he should have done superior work, at a level of excellence that is significantly above average.”  Obviously, each family is going to have to establish some procedure that will work for it.
     As with resources for general curriculum preparation and course studies, resources for preparing transcripts of your homeschooled student's high school work abound.  Inge Cannon conducts a “Transcription Bootcamp” at various places throughout the year.  Many state homeschool associations, homeschool-related organizations, and even local support groups often hold seminars on the subject and can provide information.  Most of the books that I mentioned at the beginning of this article will have helpful material on the subject as well.  Or, just get in touch with some homeschooling family who has already graduated children from high school and ask them.  Several of them have told me that with a little creativity they have had no problem documenting on an official-looking form that was acceptable to colleges what their students studied and how well they did.
     There is a lot more information that I could give, but what is in this article and the following one should be enough at least to get you started.  What my research has shown me confirms what I have believed all along, that homeschooling parents can homeschool their children successfully through the high school years.  That does not necessarily mean that it will always be easy.  However, if we can develop within our students a love for learning and good study skills when they are younger, homeschooling in high school will be not so much filling their heads with knowledge as lighting a fire under them to learn for themselves (did not someone else already say something like that?).  Some homeschooling parents feel the need, for whatever reason, to put their children into a more traditional school, either public or private, for high school, and nothing in this article should be understood to demean or belittle them in any way.  Each family must make its own decisions for its best interests.  But for those of us who prefer the homeschooling lifestyle, the conclusion concerning homeschooling through high school is that we can do it!