This post reviews Jeffrey B. Koonce, “The Transitional Experience of Home-Schooled Students Entering Public Education: How Can Public Schools Better Serve the Home-Schooled Student’s Transition to Public Education?” (Ed.D. Diss., University of Missouri-Columbia, 2007).
This is Koonce’s doctoral dissertation. He now works for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. His study examined the experiences of children who had transitioned from homeschooling to public schools in an effort to discover how to make the process a smoother one for all concerned.
Stemming from his 19-year background as a guidance counselor and school administrator where he encountered many homeschooled children who had shifted to public education with varying degrees of ease and success, Koonce had five questions he wanted to answer in his research:
1. What motivates some homeschooling families to transition to public education?
2. What factors contribute to a positive or negative transition?
3. How can homeschooling families better prepare for the transition?
4. How can public schools improve the transition process?
5. How does the transition affect parental involvement in the child’s education?
Koonce’s literature review of homeschooling is rather cursory and relies too much in my view on the “ideologue/pedagogue” distinction first suggested by Jane Van Galen. The most interesting part of it is his summary of the literature finding over and over that while American attitudes in general have grown more favorable to homeschooling, among school officials it is still highly suspect. It is clear that Koonce’s target audience is such people as he tries to convince them that homeschooling isn’t so bad and that they need to be more sensitive to homeschoolers’ needs when they transition to public education.
Koonce obtained a “convenience sample” of thirteen rural Missouri families who had transitioned from homeschooling to public school and were willing to be interviewed. He got these names by contacting leaders of statewide homeschooling organizations. Almost all of his subjects were Protestant, white, middle-class, two-parent, single-income families (one family was Catholic, one Mormon, and there was one single mother). He acknowledges that his results are in no way generalizable to the entire homeschooling community but does think them pretty representative of central and southern Missouri.
Koonce found that his families homeschooled for four years on average. They felt that the best part about homeschooling was the way it developed strong family bonds. The worst was its weakness when it came to high-level courses.
So why did such families decide to transition to public schools? Most of them did so because of the perceived educational and social opportunities schools provided: upper-level math and science courses, extracurriculars like sports, band, choir, and drama, and other experiences deemed important for future success at college. One student transitioned because of conflicts with the parent over homeschooling, and a couple wanted to be exposed to different kinds of people out of missionary motives.
What made the transition positive or negative? Positive experiences resulted when the school system was helpful and understanding of the student’s background (4 students in his sample). Negative experiences resulted either when the school was skeptical of the child’s homeschooling background (5 students) or when the homeschooling background had not adequately prepared the child academically (2), socially (1), or procedurally (1).
The answers to Koonce’s other questions follow from these findings. Homeschooling families can better prepare for the transition by helping their children understand the organizational structure of public education, by keeping their child up to speed academically, and by providing social experiences for the child with other children outside of the family unit. Public schools can improve the process by dropping the suspicious stance toward homeschooling. This is the single most important factor he identifies as key to successful transition. If schools take homeschooling in stride and work open-mindedly with parents rather than pathologizing homeschooling and accusing it of the usual shibboleths, much progress can be made. Schools should provide an orientation for formerly homeschooled children so they are ready for their first day. Finally, parents who previously homeschooled still want to be involved in their child’s learning, and both parents and schools should work together to facilitate understanding and collaboration.
Koonce ends his study with some practical suggestions both for homeschooling parents and for public schools to help ease the transition. Homeschoolers should make sure their curriculum is sound, that they keep good records, that their kids take “an anual nationally normed test” and that they have “a positive mindset toward public education.” Public schools should recognize homeschooling as a normal and legitimate educational option, provide a user-friendly enrollment process and mechanism for giving homeschoolers credit for academic work done at home, tap into the energy of the involved homeschooling parent-type, provide a liason to help students with the transition, and encourage part-time enrollment as a first step for those who need it.
Reading this dissertation was quite enjoyable. Koonce comes across as really good guy who just wants everyone to get along and clearly has the child’s success as his top priority. He admits not knowing too much about the culture of homeschooling along the way, and it is clear from his descriptions of the families he studied that he doesn’t fully grasp the degree to which many homeschoolers react against the very idea of government-run schooling. But perhaps this is a strength of this study. Too much attention to the rhetoric of homeschool leaders and their public school critics masks the reality that for a very large number of homeschooling families the approach is not a full-throttled lifestyle commitment but a temporary fix to specific issues in their family’s life. Since all of Koonce’s subjects here had actually shifted to public education, it makes sense that they would reflect a more moderate stance toward homeschooling and public education than one might find with a different sample. His study leads to no recommendations at the level of state law, so homeschoolers with no desire to ever set foot in a public school need not fear his suggestions (more testing, structured curriculum and the like). But for parents who are considering sending their children to high school, much of what he says makes sense. As a piece of social science this dissertation might not have much to offer, but as practical advice from a sensitive man who has watched homeschoolers thrive and fail to thrive in public school, it could be very helpful both to homeschooling families and especially to public school personnel.