Punchback                                Page 13


Myth: Home Schooling is Better


Home-schooling proponents brag about their famous alums: Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Pearl Buck, Robert Frost and Serena Williams. Of course, that group contains the super rich, the isolated, the infirm (Frost was so anxiety ridden he couldn’t go to school) and a superstar athlete. From Teddy to Serena, celebrity alums are hardly representative of the youngsters who today are taught at home.

Fifteen years ago, Lawrence Rudner reported a survey of home-schooled students. (I edited the journal that published his report.) Rudner’s study has been downloaded more times than any of the hundreds of articles in the journal’s 30-year history.

 Punchback - Gene Glass
Rudner found nearly a million students in the U.S. in 1998 were being home-schooled. Their parents had more education than parents in general. The average income for home-schooling families was higher than that of families with children, and almost all home-schooled students had two married parents. About 95 percent of the home schoolers were white/non-Hispanic. And most astounding, 25 percent had one or both parents who were a certified teacher.

But it was another part of the report that accounts for the intense interest in Rudner’s work (available at http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/543/666): “Almost 25 percent of home-school students are enrolled one or more grades above their age-level peers in public and private schools. Home-school student achievement test scores are exceptionally high. The median scores for every subtest at every grade (typically in the 70th to 80th percentile) are well above those of public and Catholic/private school students.”

For the home-schooling lobby, this was fantastic news, and Rudner’s findings have been celebrated and passed from person to person for years.

Ignored Warnings

As happens with research, the caveats get swept under the rug. Rudner’s finding was based on comparing a select group of students in two-parent families of upper-middle class status with average children in the U.S. He included this warning with his report: “These comparisons between home-school students and students nationwide must be interpreted with a great deal of caution. This was not a controlled experiment. Students were not randomly assigned public, private or home schools. As a result, the reported achievement differences between groups do not control for background differences in the home school and general United States population and, more importantly, cannot be attributed to the type of school a child attends.”

A careful researcher is apt to be ignored when it comes to spinning a message that favors a special interest. So it was with the achievement test scores in Rudner’s report, contributing to the Home Schooling Superiority Myth.

To be clear, no evidence indicates home schooling is superior to public schools. Most parents give up on home schooling when their children begin to struggle with algebra, geometry and the sciences. The number of home-schooled students dwindles to a precious few by high school. Try as home schooling parents may to bring social activities to their charges, a flash mob at the park is a poor substitute for the junior-senior prom.

Handy Responses

How should public school leaders advise the parents sitting across the desk who announce they are thinking of home schooling? Some suggested questions:

Are you willing to put in the time that our five teachers put in to make your child’s education a success?

If you do stay with it until the middle school years, how’s your grasp of algebra? And can you handle those science demonstrations that we’ve been developing here?

If you manage to home-school until graduation, are you sure the military and the NCAA will look on the diploma you give your child with all the approbation they bestow on our credentials?

Myths sprout up quickly and travel fast when parents are looking for magic solutions to benefit their children. More often than not, the best choice for most students is the choice that the vast majority of parents have made for decades: their neighborhood public school.

Gene Glass is Regents’ professor emeritus at Arizona State University and senior researcher at the National Education Policy Center. He is co-author with David C. Berliner of 50 Myths and Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools (Teachers College Press, 2014). E-mail: glass@asu.edu. Twitter: @GeneVGlass




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