Friday, October 07, 2005

A Homeschooling Experiment

Families displaced by Hurricane Katrina are turning to that old-fashioned, albeit non-traditional, method of learning: homeschooling. See this AP article from Belle Chasse, LA.

From the article:

>>Nationally, about 1.1 million students are home-schooled, according to the U.S. Department of Education, a movement that's been growing steadily for decades. Usually, though, it's not a decision made under duress, since home-schooling demands patience and commitment from both parents and students.<<

This could be an interesting data point in homeschooling research (many parents of gifted children choose to homeschool at some point in their children's school careers).

All the studies of homeschooling contain a selection bias. The kinds of parents who choose to homeschool are often better educated and more committed to learning than those who don't. I have only come across one study that removed some of that bias. That study looked at rural Alaskan families who homeschooled out of necessity, not choice. The state would provide lessons by radio, and centrally located teachers would consult with parents on occasion. These students did as well as their conventionally schooled peers.

The Louisiana situation could provide a similar study, since parents are homeschooling "under duress" as the article says, not as a long-planned choice. We will see how these children fare when they return to their schools. My guess is they'll do pretty well.


Cat said...

We've been homeschooling our profoundly gifted son for over 3 years now. I have mixed reactions to your opinion as to about homeschooling parents necessarily having better education themselves. We were private school parents before turning to homeschooling out of desperation, and I do find other homeschoolers who remind me very much of our private school cohort. But surely there are regional variations in play here. We are in a small Northeast city with a very low cost of housing. Our secular homeschooling cooperative has member parents who work at the local grocery store, Walmart, truck drivers, university professors, doctors, and single parents doing whatever they can. Some have never been past high school and others have multiple advanced degrees.

I strongly suspect that in more expensive regions of the country you will see more self-selection in the incomes and educations of people who "can afford" to stay home. However, just as in the Mommy Wars, for every one family who "can afford" for one adult to stay home, there is one where both (or more) adults are working varied hours to make staying at home possible some of the time. This was true for many private school families of our acquaintance, and is true for our homeschooling friends as well.

Laura Vanderkam said...

No, they're not necessarily better-educated. I put the "often" qualifier in there because of the surveys done -- plenty of parents who haven't been to or finished college homeschool, but homeschool parents are more likely to have been to or finished college. But I think the second half of the sentence is the key part: parents who homeschool are, on the whole, more committed to education than those who don't. There are exceptions either way, of course, but to homeschool is not the default assumption. It requires a parent to think about it, and actively choose it, in most cases. In some states, the parent even has to go through hoops (submitting lesson plans, portfolios, etc.) to do it. Getting rid of that selection bias is tough -- except in the case of parents homeschooling in rural Alaska, or in this case, in the aftermath of a storm that has temporarily displaced children from their home schools.

Anonymous said...

Note that these estimates of the number of homeschooled children are way too low. Most parents of homeschooled children do not register their kids with the school district until the student is in middle or high school and registration becomes required to participate in sports, music, etc.

Here, I don't know of a single parent of an K-4th grade homeschooled student that has registered that student. The local school district reports their homeschool numbers directly from these registrations.

Our district is struggling with declining enrollment at the elementary level, even though our overall population is growing fast. They can't figure out why and tend to blame it on declining birth rates and more retirees. They won't accept my belief that it is largely due to homeschooling because "the numbers don't show it". Duh!!