The blog post in the July Digest has created a great deal of both concern and confusion. In an attempt to clear up both, I am writing a follow-up blog post.
The primary area of concern seems to be how to tell which books are honors level books. This goes back to the question of how text book manufacturers determine what is covered in any text book. The content in any text book is driven by a couple of different factors. One factor is what the colleges want covered in order for their incoming freshman to be prepared to succeed. They see a need for more challenging curriculum and ask manufacturers to push for material to be covered sooner so the student can get farther in each discipline during their high school years. Not only have some concepts that used to be covered in PreCalculus moved into Algebra 1, but it is now fairly commonplace for Algebra 1 to be taken in 8th grade rather than 9th grade. This allows the high school student to take a Calculus level math class while still in high school making him better prepared for college.
Another factor that influences and is influenced by the content (also referred to as the scope and sequence) is what the college entrance exams cover. Testing to determine college readiness is problematic in some cases however over the more than half century that the SAT and the ACT tests have been given, there are trends that can be identified. The tests cover the material that the colleges want evaluated in their potential students. This means when the text book manufacturers follow the requests of the colleges and add new material, this new material will show up on the college entrance exams.
The biggest driving factor though is the state legislatures. They are tasked with running the education in their states. Every state legislature does this by handing the responsibility to the State Department of Education. They make the rules and regulations that govern the PUBLIC school students. When they agree with the colleges that the curriculum needs to be more rigorous, the text book manufactures will follow the standards set by the states. (The two most influential states in this regard are California and Texas. They buy a LOT of text books!)
All third option home school associations are under the authority of the South Carolina Department of Education (SC DOE). The SC DOE chooses the standards that govern what material must be covered to call a class college prep or honors. This applies specifically to the public school students (and is of course one of the many reasons families choose to home school).
PHEA has never dictated what curriculum people must use. We firmly believe that the parents have the right and responsibility to research and pick the best curriculum for their students. Also, we do not check all the different curriculums against the SC standards to see if they meet the college prep (CP) level. Generally, we take the information parents give us on what they covered and what level it is when it comes to CP. So a parent may use any book, including the older Saxon Math books, and call it CP.
The issue comes from the fact that many families want honors credit to help increase their students’ GPAs for scholarships. The PHEA staff has talked it over many times, and the only fair standard we see is to use the SC State Department of Education standards on what constitutes a CP class to then define an honors class (This is fair as homeschoolers are competing for SC DOE scholarship money, so their standards are the one we should use.).
Many parents have called or emailed to ask us if we would tell them what math books count as honors. The problem with listing books as honors is that the designation is deceptive. If a book is honors , must the student cover the whole book? Every lesson? Every problem of every lesson? If they do not do all the problems and lessons in the book, when does it stop being honors and become college prep? In the public school system, there are usually four to five text books that are approved for each class. High School A may use Forester Algebra 1 as their honors book and Pearson Algebra 1 as their college prep book. High School B may choose the exact opposite. They are both correct, and their honors course can be designated as honors no matter which book they use. It is what they cover from the book that makes the class honors.
To determine honors level, essentially, the parents have to look through the state standard on the class they are planning to cover (say Algebra 1). There are very specifically defined concepts that must be covered for it to be considered a college prep class. The wording for what constitutes an honors class (from the State Department website) reads: The requirements for honors courses are greater than for college prep courses. Textbooks and/or other course materials must be differentiated and more rigorous than those used in college prep courses. An honors course must have a published syllabus that verifies rigor that is sufficiently beyond the college prep or tech prep requirements. After comparing the text book to the college prep level requirements, you then determine if there is more in the book that will be enough to bump it up to honors level. It is not easy, but this is the process that must be done to determine what must be covered in order for the book/class to be considered honors level.
Because both the standards and the textbooks are updated periodically a book that might have qualified as honors before may no longer meet the honors level requirements. It may not even contain all the concepts that are now part of the updated standards. When we first started our co-op, we did the research and the older Saxon math was at the honors level, based on the SC standards 20 years ago. Now the older books no longer contain all the content the current college prep standards contain. The book didn't change, but the standard did.
Last month’s blog dealt specifically with the older Saxon Math books. I think it bears repeating that for the home school family who values a certain type of training (such the classical approach explained by Doug Wilson), they can and should pick texts that teach to the method they wish to use. Just be aware that the students may not be as prepared for college level courses or for the college entrance exams. They may however have a more solid grounding in critical thinking skills and in rhetoric and debate. As home school families we need to think through our goals for our children and then pursue their education with plans that will help them attain the goals.