This post briefly reviews Susie Heumier Aasen, “New Followers of an Old Path-Homeschoolers” in Educator’s World 32, no. 4 (January 2010): 12-14. [Available Here]
Aasen, veteran homeschooling mother of five in Washington State, here summarizes the basics of homeschooling research. She leads off with the 2007 NCES data that estimated there to be around 1.5 million homeschoolers in the U.S. She describes the diversity of motives, pedagogies, and types of people who homeschool. She cites Brian Ray’s NHERI research to show that
the average homeschooler consistently scores higher on standardized achievement tests compared to average public school students, with median scores from 15-30 percentile points higher than the public school norm. (p.12)
Longtime readers of this blog will recall that I’ve dealt at length about the hazards of making such sweeping generalizations from Ray’s data. If you missed it you can find my review of Ray’s oeuvre here (part 1) and here (part 2).
Aasen next addresses socialization, citing the work of Thomas Smedley and Larry Shyers to argue that homeschoolers are well socialized. The same goes for their self-concept. And finally, homeschoolers do very well as adults, as Brian Ray has shown (again, see my reviews linked above).
All in all this is a very celebratory summary. It is significant that of her eleven sources, 6 are either by Ray or were published in the Home School Researcher, Ray’s journal. As a summary of the research this article is fine. The problem is the research base itself. Brief articles like this often leave the impression that homeschooling is like magic, transforming ordinary mortals into geniuses who go on to change the world through their entrepreneurial acumen and political savvy. And, unfortunately, that is what the self-selecting surveys and advocacy agenda that has been the bedrock of homeschooling research for three decades does lead one to believe (though if you read them carefully, Ray’s original studies do acknowledge that one cannot generalize from them or compare his results to public schooled children).
The truth, however, is that we just don’t know basic things like what the “average” homeschooler scores on tests or how well socialized homeschoolers are or whether they go on to make more money or have more influence than their conventionally-schooleld peers. To know stuff like that we’d need representative samples (not surveys of volunteers) that control for variables like family income, parent education level, marital stability, race, and so on. These kinds of studies are difficult and expensive, however. Nevertheless, until we get them all of what we know about homeschooling will continue to be anecdotal, be it celebratory anecdotes like those underlying this piece or desultory anecdotes like those reported recently in this blog from criminal prosecutions and custody battles.