Most homeschooling parents, in my experience, feel fairly confident about educating their elementary and even middle-school-aged students. But when it comes to high school, nagging questions beat down that confidence:
- What counts as a high school credit?
- How many credits do they need to graduate?
- What do colleges want to see on transcripts?
- How do I create a transcript?
- Can I award a ‘legal’ high school diploma?
As my firstborn approached 9th grade, I pondered the same questions. There are many books on the subject that are helpful, such as
Homeschooling High School:Planning Ahead for College Admission by Jeanne Gowen Dennis
Senior High:A Home-Designed Form+U+La by Barbara Edtl Shelton
What I am going to give you in this 2-part series is a crash course to help you calm those fears and doubts, and consider continuing home educating your children through graduation.
Creating a course of study to fulfill graduation requirements is not as difficult as it sounds. Most states post graduation requirements on their state Department of Education websites. For Ohio, graduation requirements can be found at Graduation Requirements/Ohio Core, then downloading the relevant .pdf file - Graduating Classes through 2013 or Graduating Classes 2014 and Beyond.
For us, the second link is the one that applies, so I printed the file and used it as the foundation of my Course of Study Checklist. I love the ready-made, free printable high school forms at donnayoung.org, especially the 4 Year Checklist.
I took the requirements from the Ohio DoE website:
English/Language Arts – 4 credits/units
Mathematics – 4 credits/units (must include Algebra 1 & 2 or the equivalent of Algebra 2)
Physical education – 1/2 credit/unit (you can use an exercise program, an organized sport, or some other regular physical activity, such as marching band, gymnastics, karate, skating lessons…)
Science – 3 credits/units (1 credit in physical science, 1 in life sciences, and 1 credit in the “advanced study in one or more of the following sciences: chemistry, physics, or other physical science; advanced biology or other life science; astronomy, physical geology, or other earth or space science.”)
Health – 1/2 credit/unit
Social studies – 3 credits/units (must include 1/2 credit in American History and 1/2 credit in American Government)
Electives – 5 credits/units (Electives are courses not otherwise required that fall somewhere into these categories):
- foreign language
- fine arts
- career-technical education
- family and consumer sciences
- agricultural education
- English language arts
- social studies courses
Economics and financial literacy – the parameters of this requirement are not specified, but I would say that any age-appropriate money-management course or consumer math program would meet this requirement.
Fine arts – 2 semesters unless the student is engaged in vocational/technical training.
So I’ve got my handy-dandy Course of Study Checklist, I grab one of my kiddos, and we sit down and decide on how we can best fulfill these requirements.
To fulfill the 4 credits for English/Language Arts, 1 credit/unit is the completion of Jensen’s Grammar. Credit #2 is in Composition, and we use Jensen’s Format Writing. Why Jensen’s? Because I skip right over warm and fuzzy and head straight to the “Let’s get it DONE!” aisle. The completion of Jensen’s will have the student ready for college-level courses. No need for a new grammar or composition curriculum every year, and non-consummable resources are just the way we roll.
We also include vocabulary and spelling as part of our Language Arts curriculum, and we can do this in a couple of ways. We use a set of workbooks like Wordly Wise for targeted practice when necessary, but most of the time, correcting composition papers and grammar exercises, as well as learning new words while studying history, science, literature, math, etc… takes care of spelling and vocabulary.
A two-for-one component of Composition is Speech, and a great speech guide is… no laughing, no rolled eyes people! We like Stand and Deliver by none other than Dale Carnegie. So what if the examples are a Who’s Who of Who’s Pushing Up Daisies (Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Knute Rockne, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, Vince Lombardi, J. Pierpont Morgan, Carl Sagan, Woodrow Wilson, Lou Gehrig…). This is good stuff. Don’t knock it. The student learns solid public speaking practices by practicing- reading their compositions out loud. Doing this in front of a webcam gives the student the ability to critique their own performance. Eventually you can find some public speaking opportunities at church, with a homeschool support group or co-op, at a family event, or even at a local cafe that offers a microphone to local residents on occasion.
Of course, no English/Language Arts Course would be complete without a credit in Literature. Feel free to compile a list of books, both fiction and nonfiction, classics and modern, that fit your student’s tastes and interests. I would include at least a brief study of Shakespeare, but I’m not going to stuff classics down their gullets. There are some books that require maturity and experience to appreciate. Nathaniel Hawthorne immediately comes to mind.
Don’t forget to include a few as audiobooks in the mix. Sissey Spacek’s reading of To Kill a Mockingbird is endearing and authentic.
So there you have it- 4 credits in English/Language Arts.
This can be further tailored to fit the student based on their career track. If they are heading toward a vocation that involves advanced communication and writing skills, your choices for electives will reflect that, with more courses in Composition, or Speech and Debate, or European Poetry and Literature, for example. But just because they want to be a car mechanic or go into the military doesn’t mean you should skimp on the Composition or Literature courses. Language and communication skills are the #1 factor in many careers, as evidenced by the interview process itself.
The next question is always- “What IS a credit? Is it hours, it is amount of work completed, is it proficiency?” These questions are being asked by public school officials as well. In The Carnegie Unit May Yield to Better Course-Credit Measure By Caralee Adams, we see that the Carnegie Unit was “Developed in 1906, the unit is a gauge of the amount of time a student has studied a subject. For example, a total of 120 hours in one subject, meeting four or five times a week for 40 to 60 minutes, for 36 to 40 weeks each year earns the student one “unit” of high school credit.”
But now, new technologies and the desire for students to show mastery instead of punching in a time clock have resulted in a reconsideration of what a ‘credit’ entails.
Personally, we don’t count time. We can’t count time. We don’t live by a bell. If someone knocks on the door or the dog pukes or Grandma needs to go to the doctor, we stop and take care of business. We have a basic schedule that ensures that we spend an adequate amount of time in each subject, but I count a completed course with a minimum of a 3.5 GPA as a credit. In a sense, my kids are straight-A students because they do the work until they get it right. We don’t go to the next chapter or the next concept until they show understanding and proficiency. Some lessons and courses don’t take very long, others can require much more than the time they would spend in a traditional classroom. My kids are not penalized by completing a course quickly and competently, nor do they earn extra-credit by taking 2 years to do Algebra.
Homeschooling high school is possible, even rewarding, simply by getting the facts and planning ahead.
Part 2 will answer some of the other frequently asked questions about homeschooling high school. If you have any questions about the above post, or ones you’d like to see addressed in future posts, please leave them in the Comments section below.