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UC Scout curriculum: a new option for homeschoolers

Note: This piece had a few misleading or erroneous statements due to lack of clarity about what Scout is offering. Please read my addendum at the end to get clarification of what Scout offers.

I have known a lot of homeschoolers who have approached the high school years with trepidation. I am trying to remain calm, cool, and collected, but I have to admit that at times I join in the fear. What if I don’t inspire him to do his best and expand his horizons? What if he spends all his time playing video games? What if he doesn’t get into college?

Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 6.20.09 PMIt’s that last fear that sends homeschoolers running to their local high schools for help. Homeschooling is frustratingly lacking in hard data, but it seems from observation that a lot of homeschoolers bail out at the end, when they see that the stakes are highest. Despite the fact that the available evidence points to homeschoolers getting into and doing just fine in college, we quake at the thought that our educational choice might limit our children’s opportunities.

Roadblocks

In California, one of the biggest limits we see looming on the horizon is the University of California’s “a through g requirements” system. Our best public universities now require* that applying students prove that their high schooling has met these requirements as a pre-condition to application.

*A caveat: individual homeschoolers report that their completely homeschooled and sometimes unschooled students did get into UC schools without jumping through these hoops. There are a number of ways to do this, and if you’re interested, you should join  a “homeschool to college” e-mail list to get more informed. In this piece, however, I am going to focus on those who are more comfortable finding a way to push their student through the hoop than finding a way around it.

The a-g requirements are not overly demanding. As any homeschooler knows, your student can learn everything a traditional high schooler learns—and more—in a lot less time and with a lot less stress. The stress, however, comes from the documentation end—how do you prove that your home biology course makes the grade? One way is to take standardized tests that document achievement (the required tests and scores are listed on this page).

Enter UC Scout

A new option is being offered through UC Scout, now updated and certified to fulfill a-g requirements. Scout is primarily designed to be used by teachers in the public school system, but that doesn’t mean that homeschoolers can’t use it to their advantage, as well.

“We’re finding that a lot of homeschooling families are very interested,” says Kevin Heller of Scout. He kindly agreed to answer a few questions in order to clarify how homeschoolers, both those who homeschool independently and those who use a public school program, can use Scout. Also, please note that if you do not reside in California, the Scout resources are open to your student as well.

A general introduction

Scout is a set of online classes in a variety of curriculum areas geared toward meeting UC’s a-g requirements. The lessons can be completed independently, under the guidance of a local high school teacher, or with a Scout-assigned instructor (for an added fee). California public high school students taking the course through a high school teacher pay no fees to take Scout courses. Private school and independent students pay a small fee for self-paced access to a course, and a higher fee if they would like to work with a teacher.

Answering a few questions

For homeschoolers, I felt like the website left a lot of questions unanswered. Here are my questions and Heller’s answers, which might tell you more about how your student might use Scout:

I see that you have a self-paced option and a teacher-led option. If the students buy the self-paced option, do they have a time limit to finish it or is it open-ended?

All options do have an associated start and stop date, however, those dates are variable. Open Access classes typically run for a year, but we also have a Summer semester version that is shorter. If a student or family wants a Personalized Section, we can customize the start and stop dates to their needs. If a student or family wants to hire one of our teachers, there are pre-set start and stop dates.

With the teacher-led option, what sort of access do they have to the teacher: e-mail, Skype sessions,…?

Students can email the teacher, chat live with the teacher, video chat, and teleconference with the teacher on an as-needed basis. We are working adding a video chat feature to our LMS, so that a student would not need to use Skype or Google Hangouts.

Will doing the teacher-led option look better on a homeschooler’s UC application, given that there will be an outside teacher responsible for it? Or is it enough for a homeschooler to do the self-paced option and submit scores from that?

UC Doorways does not differentiate between courses that are facilitated by a Scout teacher, a school teacher, or a student being supported at home using the self-paced version of a Scout course. However, Scout is also not a credit-granting institution. Students receive credit from their local schools, and school officials must choose Scout from the UC Doorways website to assign credit for Scout courses on students’ transcripts.

Will you be adding a feature so that potential students can see the curriculum before buying? Specifically, since homeschoolers don’t always have a degree in the subjects their high schoolers are studying, they are interested in the length of the lessons, how they flow, what sort of help is available from within the system (for example, pop-up definitions in the text), and how often the curriculum presents quizzes to help the student confirm his or her mastery level of the material. 

We will have demo lessons available soon, but they are not yet ready. The lessons were created for mastery learning, and they contain frequent checks for understanding and interactivity.

What happens if students don’t pass quizzes, or don’t do as well as they’d like to? Are they able to go back and repeat material in the curriculum, or does it only flow in one direction? 

All interactive lessons contain self-check quiz questions that allow students to practice what they have learned and test their understanding. They receive immediate feedback from the system and are able to retake the quiz or resubmit their answers as many times as they need to. There are also official quizzes and tests for each course that would be administered by a teacher (or homeschooling parent), who would decide what those options are.

What are the accommodations for students with disabilities and different learning styles? Is there audio text of all the written text? Can the size of the text be changed? How much multimedia/interactive content is there per chapter?

All of the courses are fully ADA-compliant, and a transcript of all spoken materials is available. The courses are compatible with standard screen readers. While each course has a great deal both multimedia and interactive content, each class is different. For example, the Physics classes were created at UCLA, while the Computer Science A course was created at UC Santa Cruz. So, they all have multimedia and interactive content, but each course has different amounts of each.

Are all the materials in the curriculum created by Scout or does it link to offsite web resources? And are there recommendations for further reading if a student is particularly interested in one topic?

99% of the content is Scout content; there are a handful of vestigial external links. They will be disappearing soon, but as we have current users, we do not want to remove the links until the replacement content is ready. Also, there are recommendations for further reading.

Parents of home-schooled students who are affiliated with a local school or school district should seek credit approval in advance of enrolling students in a Scout course. Local schools and school districts may also require proctored exams for full credit. It is always best to check with your local school affiliation before starting a Scout course.

My son will probably be taking a science course this fall that will use Scout as its backbone. His independent teacher will register as his teacher on Scout, and will offer in-person labs to compliment the online learning. Although he will not get public school “credit” for the course (and we’ll have to pay the small fee on top of his teacher’s fee for the labs), it seems like a great option for students who want to show that they completed a rigorous course of study in their homeschooling high school years.

Resources:

Visit UC Scout for more information

Addendum:

I signed my son up for two courses and now understand the system a bit better:

First, only CA public school students get a-g credit for these classes, and that’s only if you go to a public school that’s officially allowed to offer a-g. So for example, my son is registered in a public school independent study program which is not certified, so he will not get a-g credit for the courses. But our local homeschooling charter does have authorization to offer these courses for credit, so their students will get a-g credit. It’s really important that you understand that if you are homeschooling independently or outside of California, you can’t get a-g credit by taking a Scout course. The courses are approved for a-g credit, but Scout doesn’t actually grant a-g credit.

The other thing to note is that their documentation doesn’t clarify the difference between the levels. If your student signs up for the Core Basic level, they get access to the course materials only. And when I say only, I really mean only. My son and I were shocked to see that after he finished the first quiz in Algebra and clicked Submit Homework, it was just gone. No results posted to his account, no way to see that he’d ever taken the quiz. Core Basic really is just access to the course but absolutely nothing else. Given that it costs non-CA public school students to take the course, even $19 seems pretty steep if you can’t even get quiz results, so I would suggest that you only consider this if you choose a Core Premium account.

The Core Premium courses require you to sign up with a teacher and the teacher oversees your progress. In that case, your scores are posted in your account and you get those usual features, I assume. (We haven’t paid for Core Premium.) It costs more to hire one of their teachers. According to the Kevin Heller, it’s possible for a homeschooling parent to sign up as a teacher. It’s not clear, however, how much/whether you have to pay. (Again, no documentation that I could find.) And the form makes it seem like you have to be a CA public school teacher to register, so if you want to do it, you might want to query them first about how.

Posted in Education, Homeschooling.


6 Responses

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  1. Suki says

    If you’re a homeschooler in California looking to figure out how to satisfy a-g without taking certified classes, this is a very handy page: http://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/counselors/files/CC11_SatisfyingA-G_final.pdf. This is a chart from UC showing the various standardized tests students can take and the scores they need to pass out of each a-g requirement.

  2. Suki says

    A little further information from Scout: They offer multiple sections of each class without explaining what they are. Here’s the explanation:
    The $19 course such as 131-013 run for a year.
    The same course with “s” at the end – 131-013s – is a summer course that ends August 31st.
    The 111 courses are the ones in which they supply a teacher.
    So, 131 is Core Basic.
    121 is Core Plus.
    111 is Core Premium.

  3. Jessica says

    Dear Suki

    Thank you for sharing such wonderful information. I am looking to homeschool my son in high school and is considering SCOUT as well. He likes to finish high school early so we are looking to double up on Math and English. I wonder if SCOUT allow double up?

    • Suki says

      Hi Jessica, I’m not sure what you mean – if you mean that you want him to move at a faster pace, SCOUT definitely allows that. I’m not sure what happens if you pay a teacher to work with your son, whether the teacher will allow him to move forward faster. But if he does it as a self-paced study, he can go as quickly as he wants. This is true of most self-study online programs. But you should query SCOUT directly if you’re interested in doing this so you can be sure that they provide what you need.

  4. Mark says

    thanks for the info – Were you happy with the Core Basic content?
    Are there problems for HW practice?
    (One certainly could create their own quizzes or tests) – do they follow a standard text book or is it all online?
    thanks

  5. Suki says

    Hi Mark, make sure to read my addendum above. The content was OK. It was very basic and dry. There was nothing interesting about it, but it seemed to cover all the required material. The content in Core Basic is exactly the same as for the other levels. The difference is that in Core Basic, you literally cannot use any of the automated technology. So yes, there were quizzes, but if he didn’t print out his answers they would just disappear. Unless Scout has made some serious improvements in the last year and a half (which they may well have), I suggest looking elsewhere for good online content. People really like Thinkwell, for example. Good luck.



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