On homeschooling research and projects I may or may not be working on.
As a homeschooler myself, I’ve become interested in examining the experiences of other homeschooled alums. I’m specifically looking into the way their educations were shaped, how they feel about their experience, and the paths their lives have taken in adulthood.
While this is a pretty broad subject (I’ll address that in more detail below), I’m currently focusing on early childhood education and the ways in which it shapes later attitudes towards learning.
I’ve noticed that homeschoolers seem to be more enthusiastic about learning than their traditionally schooled peers, particularly in college. The reasons for this may seem intuitive to proponents of alternative education methods; it seems probable that nurturing the natural curiosity of young children would have lasting effects on their feelings towards learning in general. What intrigues me is that this tendency appears to be true even among students who switched to mainstream schooling later in adolescence. Could homeschooling at key developmental stages be so positive a factor that it overcomes later negative experiences such as a stifling classroom or educational neglect? I’m not sure that this is the case, but I believe it’s worth exploring.
My intention is to survey as many people as possible to see if my assumptions hold true with a larger sample size. However, as I set out to pursue that goal, I have noticed a number of other issues that I’d like to explore. I’m afraid I’ve written more than I originally intended, but I have come to the conclusion that these issues are not just intriguing but important.
Homeschooling, just like mainstream education, can result in a wide variety of educational, career, and personal outcomes. Most people within the homeschooling community have seen it go very right, very wrong, and plenty of places in between. Mainstream schooling is subject to a great deal of scrutiny which attempts to identify what works, what doesn’t, and how it can be improved. Sadly, the same cannot be said of homeschooling.
In the past, the number of homeschoolers in America may not have appeared to warrant detailed study, or any further stratification beyond the term “homeschooled.” However, there are now approximately two million homeschoolers in the United States; homeschoolers make up nearly 4% of the school-aged population, up from 2.2% in 2003. Homeschooling is growing rapidly and it is time we paid more attention to it.
Public discourse on homeschooling is limited at best. To my knowledge, the US Department of Education only follows the numbers and basic demographic information of homeschooling families. The few studies that have been done address only basic questions and observations. While such work is important, a more detailed examination of homeschooling methods is necessary for further research to yield any meaningful results.
As I began to create a draft of the survey mentioned above, I started placing non-mainstream education into two categories: alternative classrooms (Montessori/Waldorf) and homeschooling. Then it occurred to me that some homeschoolers participate in large multi-day/week co-ops. Might not such an educational format be more similar (particularly in pre-elementary years) to a Montessori school than to, say, a family that practices “unschooling” on their own? What about families who followed a highly organized curriculum compared to those who were more eclectic in their methods?
Much of the appeal of homeschooling is the ability to shape a student’s education precisely to fit their needs. As a result, there are a variety of distinct educational methods that fall into the homeschooling category. The differences between some of those methods are easily as great as those between public and private schools. How useful is it to view homeschooling as a monolithic educational experience? It’s not possible to account for every individual variant within such a broad category — that’s why we examine other factors in the educations of mainstream students. We should do the same for homeschooling, starting with the way that educations are directed.
When people make the choice to homeschool, they ask a number of questions. Can homeschoolers go to college? How do they perform on standardized tests? Do they know how to interact with their peers?
Of course homeschoolers can go to college. Not all of them do. Many homeschoolers do well on standardized tests; some do not, and others never get the chance to take those tests. Some homeschoolers are great with social situations, and others are awful — which is the same answer that can be given of public schoolers. So what’s the difference between a homeschooled student who does well on the SAT and happily goes to college and one who does not? At present, we lack the ability to give a definitive answer. We can speculate or point to individual examples, but we can’t do much more than that.
There are a number of questions to be explored. Do some homeschooling methods tend to yield better educational outcomes than others? Is there a correlation between the motivations parents have for homeschooling and the quality of education they provide their children? Should students who are enrolled in public schools but study at home through cyber programs be considered homeschooled or public schooled? Income and race have an unfortunately large influence on public school education. Does that change with homeschooling?
These questions aren’t just interesting to ponder. They are vital for people who are making the choice to homeschool — they are also incredibly important when it comes to shaping effective educational legislation. Homeschooling laws vary wildly across America. Unless I am much mistaken, not much has been done to accurately assess those laws and their effects. Where are regulations (or lack thereof) succeeding in their goals and where do they need to be improved?
Studying homeschooling in the long term is tricky. The practice didn’t really catch on in the United States until the late ’80s and early ’90s, so it was hard to focus on college performance and career success when most of the demographic had yet to reach adulthood. But it’s 2016 now. An entire generation of homeschoolers has grown up, gone to college (or not), entered the workforce (or not), and started families of their own (or not). Imagine what we could learn from them.