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Homeschooling Through High School

An Interview with Jay Wile, Ph.D.

December 2, 1999

This discussion was conducted live in a chat program hosted by Mary Leggewie. Jay L. Wile, Ph.D., founder of Apologia Ministries, earned a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester in nuclear chemistry and a B.S. in chemistry from the same institution. He has won several awards for excellence in teaching and has presented numerous lectures on the topics of nuclear chemistry, Christian apologetics, homeschooling, and creation vs. evolution. In addition, he has published thirty articles on these subjects in nationally-recognized journals. He has taught at The University of Rochester, Indiana University, Ball State University, and The Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and Humanities (a high school for gifted and talented students). Currently, Dr. Wile writes curriculum for homeschoolers as well as Christian apologetics material. He has written five high school science textbooks designed specifically for homeschooled students as well as one Christian apologetics book. See all of Apologia's products at Christian Book Distributors' Apologia specialty shop.

Can a parent with little formal education really teach high school to his or her children?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: Let me answer this question in two ways. The first is based on educational theory, and the second is based on scientific studies. From a theoretical point of view, the answer is that a parent, regardless of education level, should be a BETTER teacher to his or her child than any trained professional. Why? The answer is simple. Ask anyone, ANYONE what single quality makes a teacher great. I have asked this question to hundreds of teachers,administrators, and college professors. They all say the same thing: Great teachers are the ones who CARE. That's the difference. A good teacher knows the subject, is a good communicator, etc. etc. A great teacher, however CARES for the student. Well, who cares more than anyone else for any give student?

The student's parents, of course. Thus, a parent will be a great teacher for his or her child, because the parent cares more than anyone else. All of the other stuff (knowledge, communication, etc.) can be learned. Caring comes from within. If you have that, the rest is trivial. This is born out by scientific study. Look at the graph that should be showing on the screen. In this graph, the average Stanford Achievement Test scores of homeschooled students (blue bars) and publicly-schooled students (red bars) are shown grouped according to their parents' education level.

Notice two things. First, in all cases, the blue bars are higher than the red ones. This means homeschooled students are academically superior to publicly-schooled students. Second, notice that the average test score of homeschooled students is barely affected by the parents' education level.

Whether the student's parents were college graduates or never finished high school, the average is right around 82%. For publicly-schooled students, however, the average test score is DIRECTLY related to the parents' education level. The more educated the parent is, the better the test score. Thus, even if you have not finished high school, both theory and experiment say that you CAN teach your child at home!

Wile Image 1

As a side note, look at the other graph that should be showing now. It indicates that a homeschooled student's academic achievement is also independent of the parents' INCOME level. Whether a parent makes more than $100,000 a year or less than $15,000 a year, his or her homeschooled student will perform about the same on standardized tests.

Thus, you do not need a lot of formal education. You do not even need a lot of money. You just need a lot of LOVE.

Wile Image 2

Why do you recommend that a child be homeschooled at the high school level?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: There are three main reasons. The first is shown by the graph that should be on the screen now. This graph shows the average Stanford Achievement Test scores of homeschooled students compared to publicly-schooled student for grades 9-12. Notice that IN ALL SUBJECTS, the average homeschool score is 15-25% higher than the average for publicly-schooled students. This is a common statistic from many, many studies. HOMESCHOOLED STUDENTS ARE ACADEMICALLY SUPERIOR TO PUBLICLY-SCHOOLED STUDENTS...

Thus, I recommend that you homeschool your child through high school because your child will LEARN MORE. That is almost a guarantee! Before I leave this point, let me make it clear what this graph means TO YOU. Let's suppose you are a BAD homeschooler. What will that do to your students' academic scores? It will pull them down. If you are REALLY BAD, it might pull them down so much that your students have THE SAME SCORES AS THE PUBLICLY-SCHOOLED STUDENTS! In my opinion, you have to REALLY TRY if you want to educate your children as poorly as the public schools do!

Wile Image 3

The second reason is social. The WORST place a student can be from a social perspective is in a public school. It is artificial. Nowhere, in the rest of your life, will you ever be in a situation where you spend 8+ hours per day with those your same age. Also, psychologists tell us that during the high school years, peer pressure is at its HIGHEST. The jails are FULL of people who listened to their peer group and not their parents. Thus, the MOST IMPORTANT time to monitor peer group is in high school. It is nearly impossible to adequately monitor peer group when your child is at school 8+ hours per day!

Finally, the spiritual development of your child is more important than ANY academic development. Can you truly justify sending your child to someplace that actively FIGHTS the spiritual values which you are trying to instill? Most public schools are openly anti-Christian. How can you expect your child to develop spiritually when the place that he or she gets all of his or her information is anti-Christian?

What is different between teaching elementary school/junior high school and high school?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: Of course, one difference is content, but in my mind, that is rather trivial. There is more to teach, and you, most likely, will have to learn things that you got out of learning in school. However, if you truly care about your student, that should not be an issue. What most parents forget, however, is RECORD-KEEPING. Workplaces and colleges want to see good records about a student's high school experience. There are 4 things that you need.

1. A transcript. This is a list of courses (usually by semester). You give the student a grade for each course, and you assign a certain number of credits for each course. Generally, you assign 0.5 credits per semester. A one-semester course, then, gets 0.5 credit; a full-year course gets 1.0 credit. You then compute the student's Grade Point Average (GPA).

You compute the GPA by assigning a numerical value for grades (A = 4, B=3, C=2, D=1, F=0). The GPA is then figured by taking the numerical value of each grade and multiplying it by the number of credits in the course. For example, a "B" in a 1-semester course works our to be worth 1.5 (3 x 0.5). You add all of those up and divide by the total number of credits. This gives you the GPA, which will be between 0 and 4.

2. A more detailed list of courses. This list is NOT a part of a transcript, but is for your reference when and if you are questioned about what a course entailed. This list should have each course and the text. Note what chapters in the text were covered. If you did not use a text, explain the methodology of the course and give a rough outline of what was covered.

3. A list of the student's extracurricular activities. The more you can list, the better. Any offices held should be noted.

4. A portfolio of the student's best work. Over a 4-year period, this should be about 1-inch thick. Thus, there is not A LOT in this portfolio. It is designed to "WOW" anyone who wants to see what your student did in homeschool. It should contain a broad range of subjects (science, math, writing, history, etc.). Put a few tests in there to indicate the depth of the courses, and put the student's best essays, papers, and projects in there. This might seem like a lot, but it is crucial. When it comes time for college or the workforce, you will NEED this information!

At what age/grade would you begin this detailed record-keeping?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: Start with high school. And this is an important point. High school does not begin at a certain AGE. It begins with certain subjects. If you student is doing high school work in 7th grade, that's when you start the high school transcript. Here is an example.

What subjects should be covered in high school?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: Here are the basic subjects necessary for a college-prep high school experience:

  • 4 years of English and library research
  • 4 years of Math
  • 4 years of Science
  • 1 year of health / Physical Education
  • 1 year of US History
  • 1 year of World History
  • 1 year of Geography
  • 1 year of Government
  • 1 year of arts or music or crafts
  • 1 year of Philosophy or Religion
  • 1-2 years of Foreign Language, preferably 2 years
  • Familiarity with computers
  • 2 (or more) years of SAT / ACT Review

How much should a parent allow their teenager to determine his/her course work in high school, what electives to take, etc.?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: In my mind, if you cover the subjects listed in the picture, the student can do ANYTHING ELSE he or she wants. There probably will not be a lot of time for extra courses. With my daughter, I gave her choices WITHIN subjects. For example, once a student gets through biology, chemistry, and physics, the fourth year of science could be whatever the student wants.

In English, I had a list of 35 books I wanted my daughter to have read before she graduated. I only REQUIRED 16. She could choose from the 35. I also let her choose one "fun" book not on the list that counted towards school. Thus, she read 5 books per year for school, 4 from the list and one "fun" one. That's how I gave my daughter some control of her coursework...

Every child is different, however. You need to work it out with your own child. Remember, he or she should have SOME say in the education you are giving him or her.

How does homeschooling affect what kind of colleges my child can attend?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: In general, publicly-funded schools (like state schools) consider homeschooling a minus. Many ask that the student take a GED test or a few SAT II tests to demonstrate proficiency. This is in addition to SAT/ACT tests. Usually, good SAT/ACT test scores do a lot for admission. That's why I stress SAT/ACT review.

Also, the QUALITY of the transcript and CONSISTENCY between grades and SAT scores is important. If the transcript is lousy, or if the student gets straight A's but only manages a 1000 on the SAT, those things will DEFINITELY count against your student getting in.

On the other hand, most privately-funded universities are happy to accept homeschooled students, because they usually understand that homeschooled students are academically superior to the rest of the crowd. A list of homeschool-friendly colleges can be found at Karl Bunday's Learn in Freedom site.

When should high schoolers begin taking college entrance exams?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: First, you need to see whether the colleges your student is interested in accept the ACT. That is a BETTER test, especially for girls. Thus, if your student's prospective colleges accept ACT scores, your student should take the ACT.

If that's what you do, you should have your student take the ACT at least twice: once in the latter part of the junior year and once in the very early senior year. If your student's desired colleges take only the SAT, then the student should take it 3 times: once in the early junior year, once in the late junior year, and once in the very early senior year.

Either way, your student should take the PSAT in the late sophomore or early junior year. The PSAT is supposed to be practice for the SAT. It is not. However, it IS the ONLY way to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship program. This makes your student eligible for money. Also, there are many colleges that will accept National Merit Scholars REGARDLESS of anything else. Thus, getting the National Merit Scholarship can be a BIG plus, and that makes it worth taking the PSAT.

What do you think of those test prep CD-ROMs I see in the stores?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: I don't like any that I have seen. They encourage guessing, not real review. Stick with the books. They are better, at least compared to the CDs I have seen.

When should high schoolers consider beginning college course work?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: High schoolers should do COLLEGE-PREP work right away. Things like solid, rigorous courses that will get them ready for the demands of college as well as SAT/ACT should start right away.

As far as college-level courses, you need to be sure of your student's academic abilities. If you toss your student into a college-level chemistry course as his or her FIRST chemistry course, odds are that he or she will fail and hate chemistry. A college-prep course should be taken FIRST, then a college-level course can be taken.

This is true for MOST college classes. There is a reason high school comes before college: students need to be prepared. I always encourage students to get at least one college-level course under their belts before going to college, but be sure they are PREPARED for it. In our science courses, for example, we have 2 years of chemistry.

The first is college-prep, the second is college-level. You cannot take the second without taking the first. Alternatively, you could take the first course and THEN go to a local college for a college-level year of chemistry. We will eventually have courses like that for physics and biology as well.

How do you keep it interesting to your child?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: In order to keep it interesting, you have to be creative. You need to find good curriculum, but not every course should be highly structured. For example, when I "taught" my girl US history, world history, government, and geography, I did not use textbooks. I emphasized research. For government, for example, I had her find a full copy of the U.S. Constitution. Then, over the course of a semester, I had her write it in MODERN ENGLISH. This required her to do a lot of research into what the Founding Fathers were really saying.

It made her interested in a subject that she rolled her eyes at when I told her she would have to take it. Of course, this requires creativity, and that can be difficult, especially if you have a lot of kids and therefore little time!

What should we tell our friends/in-laws/parents about "socialization?"

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: Tell them first of all that schools are the most ARTIFICAL place in the world! As I said before, nowhere, in the rest of your life, will you ever be in a situation where you spend 8+ hours per day with those your same age.

In fact, if you are worried about the erosion of the English language, you can point to schools as the culprit. Every study ever done on this subject indicates that when a certain age group that is relatively homogeneous is cloistered away, the members of the group end up communicating in their own dialect. That's what happens in schools.

Second, you can point to a WEALTH of studies that indicate homeschoolers are BETTER socialized than publicly-schooled children. For example, Dr. Gary Knowles(1991) studied more than 1,000 Michigan adults who had been homeschooled. None were unemployed or on welfare (compared to 5.6% and 11.2%, respectively for the average population). A full 94% said that homeschool helped prepare them to be independent persons, and 79% said that it helped them to interact with those from other levels of society.

Dr. Shyers (1992) reports studied the behavior of homeschooled and publicly schooled students in free and structured play. Homeschoolers have significantly lower problem behavior scores. Other than that, there was little noticeable difference.

Dr. Delahooke (1986) showed that homeschooled students are significantly less peer dependent.

Dr. Montgomery (1989) showed that homeschooled students are just as active in extracurricular activities that promote leadership as were privately-schooled students.

Andrews University in Michigan showed that the average home schooled student scored in the top third of the PIERS-HARRIS SELF CONCEPT SCALE, a standard test of social adjustment, and over half scored in the top 10 percent.

Can you tell us briefly about some of the curriculum you offer?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: We offer a full line of science curriculum designed specifically for the home. We have 7 - 12 grade materials. All courses have laboratory exercises designed for the home, and 3 of those courses require only household items for the experiments.

The other courses have extra lab equipment required but we can sell you the lab equipment you need. The high school courses are all at the college-prep level. The courses are money-back guaranteed, and we have a free question/answer service that you can use as much as you like.

So a science-phobic mom can handle it?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: Actually, more that half of our students do this completely on their own. It is designed as independent study. This is true even for chemistry and physics!

Are there tests to be done and corrected, then?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: Yes, there are tests. There are also WORKED OUT solutions to EVERYTHING.

If there are questions, the students are able to call you, then?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: Call me, write me, E-MAIL me, FAX me... I always respond within one business day, unless I am on vacation.

How long have your programs been out, and which one came first?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: Chemistry came first, 6 years ago. I was really just writing for a small group in Indiana, but it exploded.

Audience question: What types of practical things do you recommend for those not old enough for your courses with respect to science?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: That's a good question. I really like Considering God's Creation. If you use it as a guide for subjects, then you can take each subject deeper as the child gets older.

Audience question: Can you give us a representative sample from your English reading list?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: Let's see...
The Scarlet Letter (I HATE that one)....
Kidnapped
Three Shakespeare plays
The Great Gatsby
That's what immediately comes to mind.
Oh.. The Chosen. That's a GREAT one!

Audience question: How do you think the advent of the Internet with respect to college/university and being able to take courses will aid the homeschooler?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: It might help some, but I have yet to see an INTERNET course that I really like. Eventually, I think people will fashion quality courses, but I think that's a long time in coming. Actually, I am trying to do that myself, but QUALITY web courses are tough to design.

Audience question: The data you are presenting about homeschooled students' academic (SAT) scores being independent both of parents' educational background and of income level--Do those results hold true regardless of the grade of the student? Do the data support educational attainment by the parent being irrelevant even in high school? The data on the graphs were aggregate, i.e., combining, presumably K through 12. If there were several orders of magnitude more students in lower elementary than in, say, 10-12, one could possibly erroneously infer that parental education was irrelevant in grades 10-12, when, in fact, in the data presented, the difference was swamped by the lack of statistical difference in the lower grades.

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: That's a GREAT question. The studies included representatives from ALL grades. However, there was not enough data to make statistically significant cuts on grade level. However, the researchers did do control statistics that indicated the results hold true for all secondary grades. No study is perfect, but the results are definitely encouraging. They have also been confirmed by a second, larger study.

I have heard of many homeschooling scholars that have been BORED stiff with college. What do you think of clepping courses?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: I am not a fan of clepping courses, ESPECIALLY in the student's area of interest. There are three reasons:

  1. The students I had in college who clepped out of freshman chemistry more often than not failed or came close to failing sophomore chemistry. There are just too many things going on in your freshman year to think you can handle sophomore level courses.
  2. The freshman courses form the basis of all else that you will learn. You need to know those courses COLD.
  3. Professors ARE NOT impressed with freshmen in their sophomore courses. Instead, they are impressed with freshmen in their freshman courses that get GREAT GRADES.

If you must save money (and you usually get what you pay for), then have the student test out of something outside of his or her area of interest.

Audience question: I have my daughters involved in dance (ballet/tap). Would a college accept this?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: Absolutely. You would not be able to count it as an extracurricular that year, but you can certainly count it as Physical Education. In fact, nearly every college with which I am familiar has dance as a Phys. Ed. course.

Audience question: I have heard some about teaching a student conceptual physics first, before he has the math, so that he understands, later when he takes the "real" physics, what and *why* he is applying the formulae in, say, electricity and magnetism.

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: I general, I don't really like that approach. Physics without math is not REAL physics, and you end up having to lie to the student in order to get past the math. Now, at the same time, I DO teach some physics to lower-grade students. In my 8th grade course, the second half is physics. However, I DO NOT spare the math. I simply teach those concepts that are appropriate for the student's math level.

Electricity and magnetism is one of the more esoteric parts of physics, and some educators think that a conceptual approach helps in that area. In my opinion, what it does is make the student THINK he or she knows E&M, so that the student WILL NOT learn it when the "hard" math is added.

Audience question: What got you interested in science from a Christian worldview, Dr. Wile?

Jay Wile, Ph.D.: I got interested in science at an early age. In elementary school, I was "tracked" to be a scientist and the schools taught me clearly that scientists had to be atheists. So I was a proud atheist. That all changed in high school when I was challenged by a Christian physics professor to look at the FACTS involved in Christianity. I read books by Peter Stoner, Josh McDowell, Henry Morris, etc., and came to realize that science points STRONGLY to Christianity. It is through that kind of search that I became a Christian. And yes, I was raised in a Christian home.

Many thanks to Jay Wile for sharing his thoughts with us here at HomeschoolChristian.com!

HomeschoolChristian.com articles related to this interview:

Rebuttal to Some Words of Concern from Public School Administrators by Jay Wile, Ph.D.
Can't I Put This Off Until College? by Jay Wile, Ph.D.
Are You Educated Enough to Educate Your Child? by Jay Wile, Ph.D.
Why Should I Make My Child Take Science? He Wants to Be a Concert Violinist! by Jay Wile, Ph.D.