My Review of ABeka Acadamy

ABeka Academy is the child of the larger Pensacola Christian College that handles grade school and high school. The two academic institutions have the same philosophies, same teachings, same standards, and are, ultimately, run by the same people. ABeka is based out of Pensacola, Florida, and they offer a nation-wide home school charter program for home school families who want to give their kids an at home, Christian education. They offer their program for the entire K-12 grade spectrum.

At a glance ABeka may seem like the perfect answer to a lot of home schoolers' needs. They provide the books, materials, instruction, grades, and a diploma. All you have to do is send them a few thousand dollars per year and grade the student's quizzes with an answer key ABeka provides.

But for all ABeka does, there's a lot they don't do. I'm an ABeka high school student, and everything I say comes from three years of experience in ABeka's high school program, and I say that ABeka is not all they're made out to be. (Note that I only spent three years in ABeka -- I'll explain later.)

Like a lot of students, I joined the ABeka high school program my freshman year because I needed the instruction their DVD courses offer. My mom's teaching was adequate until then, but she had three younger kids to take care of and home school as well and the material I was covering in school was getting harder for her to explain. So when I started high school, we decided it would be easier for both of us if I did all my schooling via ABeka. We did the same research that basically all other prospective ABeka students have done, and they appeared to be a solution for our needs. As it turned out, we didn't know as much about them as perhaps we should have.

I took classes at a community college during high school. Not being the type of person who wanted to take two classes when one would suffice, I asked ABeka if they would give me credit for my college classes and count them towards my high school record. This seemed like a reasonable request, since every public and private school I know of does so, on the grounds that a college class should meet the standards for a high school class.

But no. My college classes may have been good enough for UC Davis and UC Berkeley (the two schools that accepted me when I transfered out of community college years later), but they were not good enough for ABeka. ABeka said that they would not give me credit for college classes, and, when pressed for the reason why, said that it was because they could not validate that the classes I took would satisfy their standards. That is, seriously, what we were told. My college classes weren't veritably good enough for their high school requirements.

Now, I could understand why ABeka might frown on an anthropology class, biology class, or any class in that general area because of the philosophical and (potentially) anti-Christian teachings commonly associated with such classes (ABeka is, after all, a Christian school) but I was asking ABeka to accept computer and math classes -- classes that carry no such philosophical baggage. In fact, they were classes that ABeka didn't even offer but that I would need for my college major later in life. (Ironically, ABeka is big on "preparing you for college", by the way.) It is standard procedure for kids in high school to take a community college class when their high school doesn't offer an equivalent class –- I've shared classes with a couple of them myself - but ABeka apparently doesn't see fit to accommodate anyone in this area, and their refusal to credit students for college classes boxes some students into a very tight corner, as I'll explain later.

Along the lines of ABeka's high standards, they're very anal about problem solving methods. I happen to be gifted in mathematics. Since an early age I've always excelled in math; I was actually factoring and solving elementary Algebra problems by age 8 when most kids are doing arithmetic. Math and logic come naturally to me and I usually solve problems quickly and with minimal work.

As it turns out, doing so is not a practice ABeka encourages. They wanted to see every little step and sub-step of my math work. I would sit down and breeze through a test with 98% accuracy, and lose 10% because I "didn't show enough work". I can understand that, as the graders, they need to see some work between my beginning and ending steps, so I would always show my work at important intervals. But I didn't show enough, even though anyone looking at what I did could tell what I was doing. I could combine three steps in my head and turn what they deemed an eight-step problem into a four or three step problem just by my normal way of solving problems. I wouldn't condense the steps too much, though, and would usually include a step or two more than I personally needed to just for good measure. But I would, consistently, get scrawled red-ink notes on my tests informing me that I wasn't showing enough work because doing work, showing the important steps of the solution, and getting the correct answer wasn't good enough. If I were shortening 10 step problems to four step problems I might see their point, but, like I said, I wasn't doing that. I can recall multiple instances where I actually lost points for shortening a four-step problem down to a two or three step problem.

Wanting to see the steps a student uses to solve a math problem is reasonable, but ABeka wasn't insisting I be reasonable. They were insisting I memorize and regurgitate their step-by-step solutions.

Throughout ABeka's math courses, I found myself painfully trying to find extra sub-steps to write down, so that I would actually get full credit for my work. There were many tests where I actually lost more points to not showing enough work than to making mathematical errors.

Unfortunately, this is very typical of ABeka. They don't encourage creativity and ingenuity; they encourage memorization and regurgitation. Understanding math isn't important, following steps 1, 2, and 3 is. That's a horrible way to teach math. At the end of such a class, a student will not have learned anything life-applicable, they will have learned how to memorize math steps. And, as a math major, I'm here to tell you that that flat out doesn't work. Ask any math student or math professor at any university and they'll tell you that that learning method isn't worth beans to students.

Another issue I have with their math department is that they only offer three real years of traditional, consecutive math study, their fourth year is devoted exclusively to consumer math –- if you opt to take math at all. That's fine, I have nothing against people taking consumer math, but not everyone benefits from it. No disrespect to anyone who has taken consumer math, but anyone who plans on majoring in something science, engineering, or math related does not want to waste an entire year on consumer math. It isn't going to help them in anything. If they're going to be an engineer, they obviously have the math skills necessary to understand consumer math as it comes in life. What they need for their careers is a strong understanding of trigonometry and calculus. They have so much math they'll need to study they can't afford to spend a year not progressing towards higher math.

But ABeka doesn't offer calculus. The highest level of math they offer is a hybrid trigonometry/advanced geometry/pre-calculus class. If you could just go down to the local community college and get your calculus class that way it wouldn't be so bad, but, as I discussed earlier, that isn't exactly an option. ABeka won't accept college classes, so you're stuck with what they offer unless you double up and do ABeka's full school load in addition to calculus at college. Possible, yes. Reasonable? Not really.

If you'd hoped, in lieu of getting any calculus, to get a good, solid trigonometry foundation (which, believe me, you future engineers and mathematicians will need), you're in for a disappointment. Their hybrid trigonometry/advanced geometry/pre-calculus class is, in my opinion, the worst math class they offer. They try to cram too much into one class, and the class as a whole is devoid of direction. You have a semester of trigonometry, then you have a semester of geometry, and at the end they announce that you're ready for calculus. I've taken college pre-calculus, and it's nothing like what their pre-calculus is. So for the record, you're not usually ready for calculus by the time you're done with that class. If you have the option of doing so without hurting your planning, take a real pre-calculus class at your community college your senior year of high school. It'll get you better prepared for actual calculus and it'll help keep your mind in shape during your year of vacation from math at ABeka.

Also, I'd go so far as to say that their hybrid trigonometry/advanced geometry/pre-calculus textbook(s) are the worst textbooks I have ever used. The books are confusing, very poorly organized, vaguely worded, and sometimes just ramble about nothing that make sense. A good math textbook will be something (if you go on in a field related to math) that you reference in later years when you have a question on that topic. I myself have referenced every math textbook I've used since Algebra II -- except their trigonometry/geometry one.

Along the lines of bad math classes, trigonometry/advanced geometry/pre-calculus isn't the only bad one, so are Algebra I and II. The Algebra series is almost the same subject both years, as best I could tell. Half of Algebra II is contained in Algebra I, just a little differently, which logically means that either their Algebra II moves back to overlap traditional Algebra I or their Algebra I moves ahead to overlap traditional Algebra II. Anyone familiar with ABeka definitely knows the answer to that. (For non-Abeka’ers, Algebra I moves ahead. ABeka never reaches backward for anything. When in doubt push too fast and slow down later. That is their motto.) Students don't get the opportunity to take math gradually and let it grow on them; they get it shoved into their face. There's a difference between memorizing math and understanding math. Students can memorize math in the same way they memorize poems, and then forget it a couple years (or weeks) later. Math, taught properly, shouldn't be like that. What good is it that way?

The algebra textbooks are nothing to brag about either. They're poorly organized and confusing. Woe to the student, or mother, who doesn't have the DVDs and opts to learn the material straight from the book. I taught myself exclusively almost all of the math I learned in school through their 8th grade math level, but, once I hit their Algebra I textbook, it all came to a shuttering halt. I couldn't teach myself the material any more, and that prompted us to to sign up for their video program. Their math textbooks are good and I would recommend them up to 8th grade. After that they're horrible and I would recommend you look elsewhere.

(I've heard many other people voice the exact same thing about ABeka's textbooks. In the beginning I wondered if it was just my mom and I who didn't like the difference between ABeka's lower grade math books and their high school text books, but I've met a lot of people who agree. I've even had people e-mail me, after reading what I say, who say the exact same thing, "ABeka was great, right up until high school.")

For those who don't know me, and for those who do know me, let me remind you, I'm a math major. Math is what I do, math is what I understand, and math is what I've studied. I would confidently say that I'm more than qualified to speak on their math program. And doing so, I grade it a C. Sure it could be worse, but that's almost a failing grade. (I guess it's better than it sounds. A C is, after all, by ABeka's standards, about, what, an 85%?*)

* This is meant to be funny. ABeka students won't find this funny, though, because this is too close to reality to be funny.

Now, leaving the realm of math and going to the complete opposite side of the spectrum...

Their English program is somewhat insane. Each year's English class is basically two classes rolled into one. It was like they couldn't decide whether to focus on grammar or literature, so they just decided to get the best of both worlds and decided to do both. Looking back, I think that English was by far their most intense subject. There was always grammar homework to do, literature to read and comprehend, and poems to memorize. Constantly, constantly, constantly. Write this, memorize that, etc. Due to the amount of material covered, English had about twice the number of quizzes of any other subject. There were actually quite a few classes composed of nothing but a pile of 15-minute quizzes.

I'm all for students having good grammar and being able to write well because it's a necessary life skill. I think less highly of literature, but it has its merits. But ABeka needs to decide what they want to do with their English program. Forcing students to concurrently deal with two nearly full time subjects is just stupid. I can't help but notice, at my college, that the English Writing and English Literature classes are in completely separate categories, and I don't think that's by chance. One class. One subject. It works best that way. Someone should point that out to ABeka.

I don't know why the four years of high school English aren't split into two years of each subject. The fact that they try to teach grammar in English for all four years of high school is just weird. I mean, you don't need four years of English grammar. Eventually you need to concentrate on just writing (enough with the sentence diagrams already). But no. They try to fit the exact same material into each English class for four years. I think they should just split their classes up into two years of writing and two years of literature (or some other ratio). The writing classes would consist of learning to write, and the literature classes would consist of learning to comprehend literature and poem memorization. Each class would be object-oriented, and just maybe you wouldn't find yourself diagramming sentences going into your senior year. I have never heard of anyone else having to do that.

Overall, their English program seems to be aimless. You do four years of it, and at the end you've spent countless hours writing the same essays multiple times, diagramming the same sentences over and over, and memorizing of poems that, honestly, you don't remember a tenth of by the end. For a private school with their reputation, it sure is easy to go through their program and not improve your writing abilities. It could be argued I'm proof of that.

This brings up yet another subject I want to point out. ABeka is known for being tough, which isn't bad. Tough isn't a bad thing, in and of itself, and I personally like tough. My problem with ABeka is how tough they are in combination with how inflexible their schedules are. They don't give students homework to complete by the end of the chapter, or by the end of the week, rather, by every class the last assignments are due and new assignments are issued. There's no buffer period for students to manage. If you do all the homework and assignments for each class, every day is an exact repetition of the last.

In college, and I have report that this is similar in public schools, my workloads rise and fall in each subject over each week. Each day has different priorities and different subjects that need to be studied. In ABeka, it's the same thing every day. Every day you have to do x, y, and z, and it has to be done today so that tomorrow you can do the new and improved X, Y, and Z. Not only does it not allow for personal interruptions in life it gets very old very fast. If you're not a good "just grinding away at it" person, you'll get bored of ABeka in about a month. It'll become a seemingly endless, boring chore.

Like I said at the beginning, I only did three years of ABeka's high school program. I left at the start of my senior year. But hopefully, by now, you understand why I left. I didn't leave because I was a failing, lazy student. I left because they couldn't meet my needs. I needed math and computer classes; they didn't provide them and wouldn't accept college alternatives. Their grading was obnoxious and discouraged creativity and originality. Their English workloads were irritatingly heavy with no sense of direction or real accomplishment and distracted me from beneficial activities. And in general, I grew to simply loathe their classes.

I left Abeka a straight A student after three fairly miserable years and joined the ACAEA in my senior year, graduated half way through the year, and promptly started college.

On that note, going from ABeka's high school program to college was a huge change. And I have to say, in all honesty, ABeka's scholastic training didn't help a bit. Their environment was completely different from college. Nothing ABeka teaches or encourages by way of study habits and scholastic conditioning will be useful in any normal college. And nothing they say you'll need in college you actually will need in college. The teachers in ABeka's video lectures make the occasional remark about how you're going to need skill X or knowledge Y to survive in college and/or the rest of life, and nine times out of ten it's completely bogus. The exception is their Bible classes. Those are by far the most practical and best classes they offer.

In college, they're interested in creativity and ingenuity. They're concerned that you get the right answer, rarely how you got there. Your homework, if you even have any that is obligatory to turn in, is collected sporadically in chunks, allowing you to pick it up and do it at your own pace whenever you need to. The focus is to gain understanding and brainpower, and they're usually pretty relaxed about it.

In summary, here are my complaints about ABeka Academy. I've talked a lot, but this list summarizes the main points that I've talked about:

  1. ABeka will not accept college classes.
    • They don't offer calculus.
    • Their trigonometry/advanced geometry/pre-calculus math class is bad, and doesn't prepare you for when you eventually do take calculus.
    • Their algebra series is too aggressive.
  2. Their English program is heavy, time consuming, and redundant.
  3. Their overall teaching style is too anal and procedure oriented.
  4. They don't prepare you for real life, despite the fact they incessantly insist that they do.

So... These are just my own thoughts about ABeka, and I know that there are those who would disagree with my opinions. Some people aren't like myself. Some people like the hard workloads and "just do it" mentality of ABeka. That's fine, but those people are the minority, most other people don't fit well with ABeka, and I'd like for those people to know what they're getting into before they find it out the hard way.

How do you know if you're right for ABeka? If you're a casual, independent, questioning person, ABeka probably won't be a good fit. Conversely, if you like memorizing 15 20-line poems a year, having your homework dictated to you day by day, and taking only three real years of math, you probably will fit with ABeka. And that's fine. I'm not saying ABeka is morally evil, I'm just saying that I personally don't like them. And I think that a lot of other people, judging from ABeka's turnover rate, don't like them either, but don't know enough when they begin to know that.

But, ultimately, it's all about education. Never forget the primary function of school. School is to teach you knowledge and, most importantly, expand your understanding. Pick what works with your personality and educational mindset the best.