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Studies on home schooling

This article on home schooling and studies thereof is rather interesting. A few comments:

The author tentatively suggests that perhaps a weakness of home schooling is that it doesn't sufficiently prepare students for the "soul-destroying" regimentation of life outside the home. She specifies two areas where this might be the case--deadlines and pointless (or apparently pointless) rules.

I would say that these are different. On the one hand, if parents are not forcing their children to meet deadlines, that's a problem. They should. I always point this out as a caution to parents who are about to start home schooling: Be sure that your child has projects that he has to turn in by a particular time. You might do a lot more of this in high school than in grade school. That's entirely appropriate. But make sure that he does it. Home schooling needn't mean schooling without any discipline. The same goes for making your students finish tests on time. Force them to learn how to do timed testing, even if this means having them do some standardized testing (or preparation using prep books) when this isn't strictly necessary. It will be good for them.

Pointless or apparently pointless rules are a bit different and do present a conundrum. The dilemma is this: You, as a parent, want to be a good boss, a good ruler. Good bosses or rulers don't make up stupid, counter-productive, or pointless rules just to haze their employees or subjects. (At least, I would argue so.) But in the world your kids will sometimes have to work for people who do demand a kind of mindless conformity. Do you need to pretend to be such a boss in order to prepare your students to work for such a boss?

I could not bring myself to do that, because it would seem to me to be wrong. My entire goal is to be as Solon-like as possible in my interactions with my children, including my interactions with my children as my students. I can't set that aside and deliberately be a jerk or a tyrant for a few days (or weeks, or months) just to teach them to work for jerks or tyrants.

But by the same token, I'm disinclined to say that it would be better for them to be in a school environment where they have to obey rules that I truly think to be poor rules just to "learn to do it."

Now, of course, there's a big grey area where rules might be poor in a home environment but understandable in a school environment. For example, at home you let your children get their own meals, but at school they aren't going to walk into the school kitchen and scrounge up a lunch. There's nothing at all wrong with school uniforms, in fact they can be a good idea, but it would be silly to make your children wear them at home just to get used to the idea.

It may indeed be the case that home schooled children take less well to regimentation when they graduate than school-schooled children. I'm not entirely sure this is a bad thing. Some people are indeed going to be suited better by environment and training for regimented positions than other people. Therefore, different groups will supply the world with different types of workers. Moreover, considering the anarchic state of too many public schools these days, the peaceful "lack of regimentation" in a home schooled environment seems extremely orderly and disciplined by contrast.

It's not a bad idea for home schooling parents to be reminded to subject their children to discipline in their work--to deadlines, high or even nit-picky academic standards, and timers. We shouldn't turn into functional un-schoolers. But as for regimentation more generally, I'm pretty comfortable with letting someone else supply the world with young people who submit to it tamely and instinctively.

A few comments on studies on home schooling: Sometimes it's argued that such studies show nothing of value because they don't include a random cross-section of students. This is of course the nature of the beast. You can't design a study by randomly assigning some cross-section of American (say) children to be home schooled, simply forcing their parents to home school them regardless of their own inclinations, situation, or capability. But we could argue that by the same token, neither can we (nor should we) force some randomly selected cross-section of parents to send their children to public school or private Catholic school or any other school for the sake of science. By the very nature of the case, the type of schooling a child is already receiving will have to some extent been selected by the parents. The fact that public schooling is (perceived as) free and that many parents treat it as a default setting does give us bigger and broader samples of American children in the public schools, but it is still by no means a full-scale cross-section of American children. (As witnessed by the fact that many high-income parents who are no friends to home schooling nonetheless send their kids to private schools.)

I fully admit: Studies of home schooling aren't going to be studies of "what any kid would be like if he were home schooled," because not any kid can be home schooled. Home schooling requires at least one available and willing parent, which many children don't have.

But it doesn't follow that studies of home schooled children tell us nothing. For one thing, many of the people who currently home school were hesitant about doing it originally or were unsure that they could do so. To the extent that their children's outcomes, or the outcomes of children in family situations in some sense "like theirs," are measured by studies of home schoolers, they may find their decision vindicated. This point extends to people currently considering home schooling. In particular, studies that seem to show that the educational level of parents is less important than might have been believed to the child's educational outcomes (this is mentioned in the article) are rather surprising and should be noted by parents considering home schooling. In fact, parents with lower incomes or lower educational levels who home school their children appear to get better outcomes than parents with comparable income levels or educational levels who send them to public school. If this finding is in fact well-supported (I don't have time to dig into the original research and give it an independent evaluation), it is extremely important. Sometimes someone will learn that I have a PhD and home school and will then make a disparaging comment about home schooling that exempts me. "Oh, well, it's okay for you. You and your husband both have PhDs, but what about other people?" My own anecdotal experience is that this is misguided. A PhD is by no means necessary to be a good home schooler. For that matter, considering the way that college education is going today, a BA is not clearly necessary either, though it might help to keep busy-bodies off your case to have one. It is especially true that home schooled children who grow up and home school their own children may well have received a high school education equivalent to or better than many college educations and may therefore be well equipped to home school without a BA. The snobbery of degrees should be shelved, and if well-designed social science studies can help to do that, all the better.

Comments (20)

I would have to say that even timed tests, although they should definitely be done, probably don't need to be done *that* often to get a reasonably educated person. And for something like mathematics ( andparticularly physics), the only thing that will help is Mensa level drilling in problem solving, in my experience. My mother was simply not equipped to provide that, which is part of what has held me back in the curriculum my parents are willing to support (which is Geology). But the big issue is: unless a person can get into AP classes, they won't get any better education out of a highschool. Which means homeschooling cannot be argued to provide much of a *disadvantage*, regardless of what anyone says/

Not to argue that a home schooling mother (or father) can provide just anything, but couldn't Mensa level drilling in problem solving be outsourced for a bright high schooler who needs it or wants it? To a tutor, perhaps, or to an on-line class or curriculum or set of drills or something of that kind.

I take your point re. AP classes, and AP classes aren't always the bees' knees, either. A lot of variables there. Plus other aspects of high school that can radically distract from and undermine education, such as peer pressure, physical danger, drugs, sex, etc.

Read between the lines, this really means:

Homeschoolers better positioned to be entrepreneurs, consultants, doctors, lawyers and others who work as partners or sole proprietors; public schoolers still perfectly suited to all of the jobs 19th century Prussia will ever need.

In all seriousness, I've never found this to be true of homeschoolers. They're quite adept at getting around such policies. They tend to just have sneering contempt for the culture behind them.

"couldn't Mensa level drilling in problem solving be outsourced for a bright high schooler who needs it or wants it? To a tutor, perhaps, or to an on-line class or curriculum or set of drills or something of that kind."
Indeed. That is why I am very supportive of home school co ops, and other means of providing an education without the use of large, modernist, institutional schools. I wish I had the benefit of that kind of environment, especially for mathematics and physics. I am unaware of any homeschool co ops in my area, even now.

One thing still lacking is accreditation in some cases, which doesn't prevent going to college, but can make it harder to get into a top tier State University through automatic admission. Of course, not everyone can benefit from that, but I imagine some can.

AP courses: We find the quality often to be very low and dislike giving credit for them; at some point this may go the way of the CLEPs which we no longer accept for most of our courses. Too often they are only basic high school courses, taught by high school teachers who don't know college standards, and the grading gives credit for very low levels of achievement in relation to what we actually expect in our college courses. Of course, some AP students are stellar, but so are many without that credit.

Home educated students are usually the ones I love to have the most; by all metrics the majority of them are outstanding. However, there are some trends that are troubling.

Arrogance: I am seeing more home educated students these days who seem to think that they are already so well educated that they can question every word I say, not bother to do the homework because they find it boring, show off in class because they think they are better than the other students. This is a small number, but growing, and I find it very, very troubling. There is also a subset doing a great deal of their education through course work that consists almost entirely -- all the way through high school -- of fill-in-the-blank work. They are not writing, they are not learning to read difficult texts, they are not learning to think critically in ways mature, educated adults do. And they resent us when we demand more of them, because they aren't prepared to do it, and they can't admit that they haven't gotten the best education possible.

Time limits and deadlines: This is the greatest complaint I have about home educated students. Many, of course, are trained to meet these well. However, there are far too many who simply seem unable to meet a deadline or be in class on time or focus for an hour to complete an exam. And the "real world" will not be kind to these folk. If you can't be motivated to meet the deadlines of your authority, you won't be self-motivated to meet your own deadlines if you want to be self-employed. So it is indeed very important for parents to insist on this.

Following "pointless" rules: I get complaints from students all the time about my "pointless" rules. Of course, my rules are not pointless; they are designed to either aid the student in learning or to make the life of an overworked teacher a little easier ("put your name and box number exactly here on the paper" -- "who cares?" they cry -- "the person who has to first alphabetize them to record 60-100 grades and then put in numerical order to return them," we respond). So your students need to learn to submit to rules that you deem important whether they see the reason or importance of the rules or not. (I should not have to explain every reason for every little thing I require.) I.e., "pointless" may not be pointless at all. Of course, this is taught, it seems to me, by teaching character: honor your authority and assume he has justifiable reasons for his requirements; even if you are pretty sure he doesn't, does it harm you to follow them? If not, show honor and just do it.

Beth, I think one thing that helps in our family is having one parent who is a college professor. That motivates and reminds us to give our kids examples of do's and don'ts, along the lines that you are discussing.


Your comment implies you are giving credit for taking the course, not getting a certain score on the test. My alma mater didn't give a single credit for the former. Most AP classes required at least a 4 on the exam to get the college credit.

Was that a correct reading of your comment?

One thing I want to mention here is that the more home schooling expands, the distinctiveness of home schoolers in the mass, especially the good distinctiveness, may be somewhat lost. In other words, the statistical balance may shift so that we have more and more parents who are home schooling using, say, entirely on-line courses or programmed learning or other mechanisms that make it easy for them as parents, thus drawing them into home schooling, but that turn out students with more academic faults.

That's why when I encourage people to home school, I try to give them a balanced view, not just a pep talk saying, "Hey, it's easy." I have a close friend whose pep talk is a lot different from mine, and it's kind of funny to have us in a room together discussing home schooling with, say, a young person wondering if he would ever want to home school his kids. I tend to give recommendations of the curriculum I use and other such nitty-gritty things, whereas her "encouraging words" sound more like an advertisement for unschooling. Yet I know that in practice she isn't actually an unschooler. It's just that she wants to make people feel so comfortable with their own ability to home school that she sounds like one. If people go into it trying to make it "simple as pie" for themselves, they may choose curriculum such as Beth describes with only fill-in-the-blank, no writing, and so forth.

Another pitfall, though, lies in the opposite direction. Books-based home schooling, sometimes called classical home schooling, looks so labor-intensive as to be overwhelming. Doing everything by unit studies using novels and historical research, plus hands-on learning and the like ("Let's study ancient Greece by reading the following three 19th century history books and two novels and making three huge papier mache maps"), rather than having a regular curriculum that drills students on things like phonics and grammar, sounds exciting in the abstract. But in practice it is either going to be back-breakingly, almost impossibly difficult for the parents so as not to miss anything or else it is going to risk missing a lot of things that the student needs to know.

Mike T: No, sorry; I wasn't completely clear -- the college gives credit for a certain score on the AP exam, not for taking the course. However, the scoring is often inadequate just as the course is inadequate; I have colleagues who have scored these and the standards are not really what a good composition program is looking for.

Lydia, yes, the opposite direction can kill creativity and the joy of learning if it's not something the parents are just excited about doing.

Classical Conversations sounds like it may be a good mid-way point from what I've seen so far (a former colleague is using it and it seems neither too loose nor too intense). I don't know enough to give an unqualified recommendation, but it seems a good program to at least look into for those who want some external structure for guidance.

About the "pointless rules": Lydia, your take on parenting and schooling, in terms of being rational and making it reasoned is a lot like ours. But we also instituted a practice (not always adhered to in the hurly burly of the day) that we sometimes tell the child: "you want to know why you must do X. OK, I will tell you why - after you do it. First go do it, and then you may come back and ask why." Usually, of course, the "but why?" was more in the nature of a stall than a real search for understanding. And even when it was a quest for understanding, at least sometimes the very doing provides the needed explanation.

My wife uses a curriculum that we co-opted from the "Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum" book by Laura Berquist. The reason I bring this up is that there are resources out there that can help a new parent-teacher get a handle on principles they need to know to get things rolling, sources and texts that will fill certain needs, the right ages for different types of learning, etc, WITHOUT requiring that you outsource the entire project nor that you turn it into a milquetoast "fill in the blank" program for the sake of ease (or sanity). As the title suggests, it is possible to hold to a high (classical) outcome expectation while tweaking and adjusting your curriculum for the special needs of you (the parent) and your own very individual kids. If you don't have outside help, it does help if at least one of the parents is either pretty decently educated (BA or higher), or has an intense commitment to learning more and has a high threshold "fix it and tweak it and keep adjusting till you get it right" personality. Without one of these, I would say that the typical homeschool family better plan on using one of the pre-packaged curricula that is long on comprehensive material and short on adjustability, at least for high school.

Lydia, one of the things I expect to see more of in coming years, is homeschool kids who were taught at home precisely because they have learning disabilities that the brick-N-mortar schools were unable to handle well. I know several kids who had one LD issue or another, and who come out of homeschool with good grades, good knowledge, reasonable self-esteem, without having been teased unmercifully, etc. If this happens a lot it may change the overall academic / standardized test statistics significantly, though I won't even guess at how we could know how much.

AP courses: We find the quality often to be very low and dislike giving credit for them; at some point this may go the way of the CLEPs which we no longer accept for most of our courses. Too often they are only basic high school courses, taught by high school teachers who don't know college standards, and the grading gives credit for very low levels of achievement in relation to what we actually expect in our college courses.

I took AP U.S. History and A.P. English at a Catholic School, and got a 5 and 4 respectively. I can tell you that both of those classes were difficult. In fact, A.P. U.S. History was VERY difficult. But as much as I hated the class, I really did learn a lot. A.P. English wasn't easy either.

A good teacher can make that class MORE difficult than your typical freshman/sophomore college class-I've yet to take any classes I'd say were as hard as that A.P. U.S. History class yet.

Of course, some AP students are stellar

I'll take that as a compliment. ;-)

Regarding Beth's point about arrogance... I've never met a homeschooler who fits that description, but if one legitimately did, I could see that as a problem. However, I would say that if a student really IS better educated than the other students, that may come out even if he's not trying to be arrogant. In fact, he may genuinely feel like he can help the other students. Now of course, if he does so only to put them down and feel superior, we have an issue. But if he's just sharing out of his broader educational background, I don't think that's necessarily bad as long as he's doing so sincerely, for the sheer joy of the subject. Also, when it comes to a topic like literature or history, a student with good analytical skills and a well-rounded education may legitimately have a different interpretation from the teacher. It's then the teacher's job not to feel threatened and react by making the student feel like he has to conform to exactly what the teacher is getting out of the reading. Once again, if this is taken to extremes (students being repeatedly rude, insulting the teacher, belittling any and every opinion the teacher offers), this is a problem. But if a student disagrees politely, backed up with reasons, that's not a problem.

My impression from college teachers' complaints and anecdotes is that students in general are becoming more inclined to arrogant grade-grubbing and a sense of entitlement to a good grade. (The journal Academic Questions, which I no longer subscribe to, used to mention such complaints fairly frequently ten years ago or so.) I'd be surprised but interested to hear that home schoolers are worse than the average in these areas. It would also be interesting to see if there is a difference between Christian colleges and secular colleges. For example, might it turn out that home schooled students seem like good, conscientious, polite students in secular colleges as compared to their non-home-schooled, secular counterparts but seem aggressive and annoying to teachers in Christian colleges as compared with their non-home-schooled, Christian counterparts? I honestly don't know the answers to these questions and throw them out only as conjectures.

ME, I know whereof I speak, and I do not demand that students agree with me or keep quiet in class or not help their peers, or else they will be judged arrogant. I am quite comfortable with my subject and my own strengths and weaknesses in it, and I can handle disagreement perfectly well, whether it's well-founded or not. My colleagues are the same. I am glad you haven't encountered home educated students with an arrogant attitude. I have, and it grieves me. Of course, I also noted that it is a small number (albeit growing) and that most of my home educated students are the best students I have, both academically and in terms of personal character.

Lydia, you are right that the sense of entitlement is a growing cultural phenomenon, and it affects the Christian community. I have several times been stunned at what student leaders on our campus are capable of saying and demanding of their professors. And yes, it stands out here, where we expect a bit of humility and at least a moderately teachable attitude. Since the great majority of our students are professing believers (90-something percent), there's not much of a secular group with whom to compare them, but I don't sense much difference; there are very polite, hard-working unbelievers in my classes and some who are not, just as there are many polite, hard-working believers and a fair number who are not -- probably similar percentages, I would guess. But it's always startling when the student who is leading worship music at your church on Sunday morning confronts you or a colleague on Monday afternoon with disrespectful, vitriolic fury over a grade he doesn't like.

Again, please, I'm not saying this is the norm, not at all. I'm saying that we do see it, including in a small -- but growing -- minority of home educated students. It's something that I would like current home educators to be aware of and make sure they are helping their students to have humility, no matter how well-educated they are. "Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies."

MA, I 'm glad you had good, hard AP courses. Not everyone does. Of course, maybe your college courses should be harder than they are, too . . . :)

"But it's always startling when the student who is leading worship music at your church on Sunday morning confronts you or a colleague on Monday afternoon with disrespectful, vitriolic fury over a grade he doesn't like."

Bleh. Fun.

Maybe a bit off-topic but, for anyone interested, Ron Paul and Thomas Woods have just announced a new homeschool curriculum (grades K-5 are free).




i enjoyed reading this article. i'm going to be homeschooling my kids and am collecting research and ideas. the mention of kids questioning simple stuff like why they have to fill out their name and number in appropriate slots seemed silly. It is a reflection of the parenting technique that a student would even ask about such simple things !! i guess unfortunately that as more parents homeschool we will see more stupid people teaching their kids to be stupid. But that holds true for kids in the public system too. If they have Bully or passive or arrogant parents the majority turn out like the parental unit :-( ...

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