Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The One Where I Vent

Last summer, I shared a lengthy, detailed, and honest post concerning our family's last-minute, unexpected, unplanned decision NOT to return to Classical Conversations (CC) for the 2019-2020 school year. You can check out that post using the link provided for a refresher if need be. There were a LOT of reasons but TL;DR: a lot of it came down to finances compounded with my availability to teach my own children at home vs. spending tons of time prepping to tutor other people's children.

Let me say this was 110% the RIGHT DECISION for our family and I couldn't be more grateful that the Lord has placed us on the path He currently has us on.

But let me take a moment to retrace my steps back to 2016 -- the year my oldest child began the Essentials program with CC.

According to CC's website, "the Essentials of the English Language program is a complete language arts program that takes students beyond the worksheet. Essentials teaches students how to analyze sentence construction thoughtfully. The result is strong language construction and usage skills, both written and oral."

On another CC website, under Essentials FAQs, the question is posed, "Do I need to supplement with an additional language arts program?"

The response from CC states, "The Essentials program offers a complete language arts program. The Essentials of the English Language Guide provides a comprehensive grammar program complete with English grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules. Our writing curriculum teaches the skills needed to write strong paragraphs and essays. There should be no need to have an additional Language Arts program."

This program was marketed to 4th through 6th grade students, and I was ecstatic that LO was going to learn so much! Here's an infographic from CC's website touting all that Essentials students would be learning:
Doesn't that sound simply incredible??

It did to me. And I enrolled LO in Essentials back in 2016 without any real research and without analyzing the program in any way, other than the information that CC provided to me. TBH, I wasn't even able to get my hands on the materials I would be teaching my daughter until a few weeks before the class began, and I had already paid enrollment fees and tuition earlier in the year that were all non-refundable. [Side note: This is something I still have such a hard time understanding. What homeschooling parent would purchase curriculum for their child WITHOUT first laying eyes on the materials?? This same issue would present itself year after year had we decided to continue with CC's Challenge program through middle and high school. You're told to just "trust the system" -- but I have a hard time trusting a system that isn't open and forthcoming with the information it decided you will be teaching your child!]

Back to 2016... LO did amazing her first year! I was so proud and impressed by all that she was digesting and memorizing and learning! The program is designed to be repeated for all three grades (4th - 6th), so it wasn't expected that they "get everything" the first year... they would have two more years to soak it all up.

In 2017, we continued with the Essentials program, but LO and I did it together one-on-one at home instead of with our community since we had the joy of welcoming Squish the summer before the school year began, and I just didn't want too much on my plate at that time. LO thrived with Essentials at home! She continued to master chart after chart and regurgitate all of the information I requested from her. I was so pleased with all she was learning, and was 100% confident she was being exposed to ALL of the English grammar and writing skills necessary for 5th grade students.

In 2018, for LO's third and final tour, I actually tutored one of the Essentials classes at our community. I jumped in with both feet and was so excited to see how LO would be challenged in her final year!

Y'all, she blew.me.away. with her incredible knowledge, memory, and skills! She could diagram a sentence like it was her job! There were several times during tutor prep at home that I would have to ask her to help me prepare my lesson for the class! She really got it, y'all. ALL of it. And then some!

In fact, it was both hilarious and (mostly) frustrating when I would ask questions during my class, only to have a handful of students raise their hands to answer my question all with the same response: "LO knows the answer!" They all thought it was SO funny because honestly, she pretty much DID know the answer every single time! And while this seemed fantastic, on the inside I was beginning to feel very concerned.

This program was designed to take three years. What happens if a student masters it in just two years? As a tutor, my job was to teach ALL of my students, but those first year 4th graders mostly stared at me like deer in headlights, while most of my third year 6th graders were BORED. My LO was absolutely BORED OUT OF HER MIND. Y'all, I paid money to enroll her in the class, purchased the necessary materials, and even spent hours preparing to tutor each week, and my daughter was BORED OUT OF HER MIND the entire time. Looking back now, I see that her last year of Essentials was a total waste of both time and money.

But it gets worse.

As I prepared to homeschool this year, 100% on our own with the complete 🎉freedom🎉 to review and select curricula that is best suited to each of my children, I ended up putting LO in a 9th grade English course. This was based off her performance in Essentials, coupled with my review of the curriculum, and how much of it LO already covered in the previous three years during Essentials.

This year started off great for LO! She was excelling in her 9th grade English course, as well as in all of her other courses. We were running full steam ahead in English through the first several chapters.

Then things started breaking down...

I started realizing she didn't have the grasp of the knowledge I expected her to have.

She was struggling with very basic English grammar concepts.

I was shocked to discover how much she was lacking as we worked together one-on-one with her English curriculum.

I used every tool available to me from the curriculum company.

Review pages.

Concept reinforcements.


Teaching helps.

Nothing I used seemed to make the information click for LO. It was a struggle, and I was heartbroken that my daughter (and I!) had such a false confidence in her skills thanks to her three years in Essentials.

This past weekend, I decided to have LO complete the Accelerated Christian Education diagnostic test for English to discover the learning gaps she was wrestling with. This would allow me to use PACE's (Packets of Accelerated Christian Education) specific to each of her learning gaps to help get her up to grade level in English.

She completed the assessment today and I was floored to discover she has learning gaps in both 4th and 6th grades. In fact, she had failed one PACE at the 4th grade level, and five PACEs at the 6th grade level (there are 12 PACEs per grade).

I was completely devastated to discover just how bad her knowledge of English grammar actually was! She was nowhere near as "advanced" in her English skills as I had previously thought. I feel like I failed her by putting her into a program back in 2016 without asking a single question or making any attempt to investigate whether or not it would meet the necessary requirements that span over three grade levels. I feel like I failed her by keeping continuing to use a curriculum for three years that she had clearly mastered after two, rather than putting her into a more thorough, complete English grammar curriculum.

So after I spent several hours today feeling sorry for myself and feeling such regret for the schooling decisions I've made for my children in the past, I took a few minutes to thank the Lord that He led us away from that path and into the real world where I have complete and total control as the parent of my children to determine what is best for each of them, rather than putting them into a box and "trusting the system" that IMO has done nothing to earn that level of trust with my children's educations.

I shared my frustrations today with fellow homeschoolers, several of whom have previously used CC and/or are currently enrolled in CC, and I was again shocked at what I discovered.

We were NOT the only ones finding these HUGE gaps in CC's Essentials program. In fact, comment after comment after comment only supported my discovery that Essentials is NOT a complete program and WILL likely leave your child with several learning gaps unless you supplement it significantly at home (which, if you're paying hundreds of dollars for a program, you'd expect it not to require supplementation to keep your child at grade level).

Check out a few of the responses I received:
"I had a similar experience with my son. He completed 2 years of essentials and was always the kid with his hand up. He knew a lot of his charts as well. I switched to well-ordered language and he has struggled with some concepts for sure. I realized that he had just learned to anticipate the likely answer for the sentences in the EEL because they were all so predictable based on the lesson. WOL throws in a mixture of sentences from all they have covered which forces you to really know your stuff. WOL also has the kids answer why each word is what it is and identify what it’s modifying while they analyze the sentences. He couldn’t do that easily at all. He’s doing well now but I realized how those contrived sentences based strictly on the lesson didn’t help him to really understand parts of speech and sentence analysis."
"We have to test yearly in MN as a requirement to homeschool. We did First Language Lessons for 1st and 2nd grade then Rod & Staff for 3rd and 4th grade. I did only Essentials for 5th grade and noticed a drop in her score for English. So for 6th grade I went back to Rod & Staff. I get the diagramming and classifications, but they really have no practice for things like prepositions, etc."
"We discovered some major gaps with my middle child after 2 years in essentials...she has really struggled with very basic mechanics like where to put commas, which words to capitalize, etc. We have been working on catching her up all year, but I believe she is still behind where she would have been if I had rejected the essentials hype..."
"My daughter had major gaps. She took the Stanford 10 after 2 years in Essentials. While she placed far above grade level in almost every subject, she placed below level in grammar...I was pretty surprised and disappointed."
"The punctuation and capitalization rules are almost non existent in EEL. Spelling is there but in an afterthought sort of way. I feel like they do an abysmal job teaching about parts of speech and what they actually do. I tutored EEL two years, and had never covered a noun clause at all or verbals in depth until we switched programs this year. Some of the charts are useful, but I don’t think they provide real practical application of knowledge."
"How do you have a 3 year grammar program that’s going to cost somewhere in the ballpark of $1,500 that doesn’t cover punctuation and capitalization, and also doesn’t cover more advanced grammar topics? It blows my mind."
"I agree, there is a lot missing. It is not complete and we have had to fill many holes. It wastes so much time over 3 years."
"Gosh, I could be writing this! My Challenge A student is dissatisfied with Challenge and we will be likely making a change next year. I have been in Essentials for 5 years and I do not love it. I am seeing a lot of gaps based on standardized testing."
"I am not surprised. It never felt like enough regular practice to me and lacked in many ways. We did another Grammar curriculum the entire time we did Essentials. It’s kind of humorous that so many parents stick with it for the price. The included spelling stunk, so I substituted that with another curriculum. The included editing stunk, so I substituted it with something else. The 5 sentences were not enough realistic practice, so I added another curriculum on top of it. The skills (prepositions, types of nouns/verbs, etc.) practice was not existent, so I added that. At the end of the day, what was I even paying for?"
"Essentials is basic and not thorough."
"After 7 years of CC (including Essentials for years) this is our first year out. It’s been a MAJOR gap-filling season for my 14 and 16 year olds."
"I feel vindicated for not buying into EEL. I enrolled my younger child in essentials only for IEW. Knowing how successful Rod & Staff English was for my older child, I stuck with that curriculum for my younger child. CC leaders didn’t agree with my decision, but I’m extremely grateful I had a strong English grammar program and didn’t rely on essentials. When I directed Challenge, it was apparent that many of the kids who had taken essentials struggled with capitalization, punctuation, sentence structure, etc. One of my biggest gripes, though, is that English grammar is a necessary subject for many years, not just during 4th-6th grades."
"I agree 100%. Essentials should be called “non-essential details.” My kids seemed to gain everything BUT the essentials."
"This is one of my biggest pet peeves about Essentials. There is just not enough practice work for the student. And not enough detailed rules regarding punctuation and capitalization - never mind all the various parts of speech and usage. We have used Abeka since about second grade (now in 8th and 10th), and my kids consistently make errors (and they're fairly bright), so I know they need to keep at it. Essentials just doesn't cut it. At all."

If my experience alone doesn't communicate the inadequacies of the Essentials program, these comments from other Essentials families surely do!

At the end of the day, after discovering these unexpected weaknesses in my daughter, I'm SUPER disappointed in myself and feel like I let my children down by putting them through CC for four years. However, I also still believe it was God who led us to make the decision to join CC back in 2015, so I know all of the experiences we've had have been part of His will for our family. And that gives me peace.

I also have peace knowing that God is still in control, and He is going to lead us to the next step in the path of His will as we make decisions for our upcoming 2020-2021 school year. There are SO. MANY. OPTIONS. for educating children at home, and I am certain He will lead us to the right fit for us during this season of our home education journey.

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