This post reviews Tanya K. Dumas, Sean Gates, and Deborah R. Schwarzer, “Evidence for Homeschooling: Constitutional Analysis in Light of Social Science Research” in Widener Law Review, 16, no. 1 (September 2010): 63-87. [Abstract available here]
The authors here are all lawyers who homeschool their children. Schwarzer particularly is well-known in California as a member of the Board of Directors of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum and especially through her work with the Homeschool Association of California’s efforts to overturn the In re Rachel L. decision that caused such consternation back in 2008.
The present article emerges from that case. Most of my readers will vividly recall the furor that emerged after a California judge determined that homeschooling does not qualify as private schooling according to California law and that parents who engage in the practice must therefore be certified by California to teach. Though the decision was swiftly rescinded, the authors here want to revisit the issue. They argue first that any educational regulation the state imposes on parents must further the state’s educational interest, second that homeschooling does in fact further the state’s interest very well, and third that imposing teacher certification on parents would hamper their ability to provide this very helpful form of state service in addition to being an unconstitutional infringement on their right to direct their children’s educations.
The authors assume here that the state’s interests are being served if children emerge from homeschooling “well educated,” “well-adjusted” people who are becoming “productive citizens.” So are they?
To answer the question the authors begin with a short primer on homeschooling, covering the usual topics–Americans have done it forever, numbers have grown enormously since 1980, homeschoolers are a diverse lot who do it for a variety of reasons and use a variety of methods.
After the orientation they survey the literature on academics, socialization, and political engagement. For academic achievement they cite Rudner and Ray, which, as we’ve noted multiple times on this blog, do not control for SES, race, or family background. As if aware of this limitation, they also include a brief section on how minority and poor homeschoolers do well on tests too. This is followed by a longer and better section on homeschooler success in college.
Next comes the topic of socialization. They cite Medlin’s 2000 Peabody Journal of Education article as well as several pieces from the Home School Researcher (Brian Ray’s journal) to say basically that homeschooled kids are fine.
Finally comes civic and economic participation. They cite sources researchers familiar with the terrain will expect, to conclude that homeschoolers are more engaged civically than their peers in public schools and also tend to make good employees.
Having demonstrated that homeschooling is consistent with state educational interests, they next ask whether certification of the parent adds anything. Here they rely heavily on several Ray studies, for whom this has long been a concern. In his large sample studies he regularly compares the test scores of homeschoolers whose parents have or don’t have certification and typically finds no difference in scores (though at least once I recall him noting that kids whose parents were certified scored a bit lower than those whose parents weren’t). They also rely on the studies comparing test core results between states with high and low levels of regulation, which have consistently found no relationship between level of regulation and student achievement. The point of it all is that increasing regulations, especially requiring certification, will not lead to improvement. In fact, by making it harder to homeschool, such a requirement would hinder, not further, the state’s educational interests that homeschooling fulfills so well.
People familiar with the standard research literature may find this article predictable and bland. But for an audience unfamiliar with these issues, this piece does a good job summarizing the research on the topics it covers. It does not discriminate at all between good and weak studies, nor does it look critically at any of the claims made by any of the sources the authors cite. This is clearly a work of advocacy, not an impartial look at “social science research.”
Moreover, it is fighting a battle that was won long ago. The last state to require certification for homeschooling parents (Michigan) got rid of that requirement in 1993. It’s true that In re Rachel L. brought the issue back to life for a brief while in 2008, but that had more to do with case law about the California compulsory education statute than about homeschooling as such. Having said all of that, the article does a nice job organizing and explaining clearly a lot of the pro-homeschooling research that has been done over the past 20 years if that’s what you’re looking for.
Published as it was in a law journal, I myself was hoping for something more. I’m noticing a general trend that is discouraging to me. It’s looking like many law journals are less discriminating than I would have expected when it comes to peer review. We’ve seen in this blog several examples of low-grade scholarship coming from law journals, most of it concerned with praising or condemning homeschooling. I don’t know much about the world of law journals. Maybe the better ones would be more discriminating. But it seems to me that a lot of them are letting their authors get away with slipshod research, dubious claims, and much else. This particular article isn’t really too bad, but neither is it too good.